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Shaw found his spot with Blackhawks in front of the net

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Updated: December 15, 2013 10:25PM



Andrew Shaw, all 5-foot-10 of him, all 180 pounds of him, was camped out in front of the net on a Blackhawks power play last Tuesday, doing his best to absorb the usual slings, arrows and cross-checks while blocking Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen’s line of sight.

Lehtonen — at 6-foot-4 — was more amused than annoyed.

“He was chirping behind me — ‘Oh, Shawzie, I can see everything! I can see everything!’ “ Shaw recalled with a laugh. “Then the next shot, [Patrick] Sharp takes one from the point and it found its way through. It put a little smile on my face.”

It’s hard to explain just why Shaw is so effective in front of the net — a big presence in a small package. But it’s not hard to prove it. After missing two games with an upper-body injury, Shaw returned last Sunday against Florida. Seventy seconds into the game, Sharp had a power-play goal through a Shaw screen. Later that game, Shaw redirected a Sharp shot for another power-play goal.

In fact, entering Sunday night’s game against Los Angeles, the Hawks had scored seven power-play goals in the four games since Shaw returned. Shaw either scored or was the screener on four of them.

Shaw credited his teammates for getting more shots through this year — “I’m just a guy standing in front of the net,” he said — but Sharp said Shaw was the key to the power play’s surge from 16.6 percent last year to 23.7 percent this year (fifth-best in the league).

“You think of all the shots and the way it’s going in [on the power play], it’s because we have that net-front presence,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He has a good knack for finding that perfect spot, where it’s almost like the perfect lane for the screen. And he’s still got a quick stick to deflect pucks. He’s not afraid to go there.”

Indeed, you have to be a little fearless — maybe a little crazy — to play that role. Goalies are shoving you in the back. Defenseman are cross-checking you and slashing your shins. And your own teammates are firing frozen rubber straight at you.

“It has its pros and cons, obviously,” Shaw said. “You do take a lot of shots in front of the net, but in the end, it’s all worth it.”

Shaw, who clawed his way to the NHL on the strength of his skills as an agitator and defender, was a significant offensive presence in the playoffs last season, scoring five goals, including the game-winner in triple-overtime of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on a redirection off his shin pads — in front of the net, naturally.

He has carried that offensive mind-set over to this season. Entering Sunday’s game, he had 10 goals and 10 assists (and was a plus-11) in 33 games. His strong play helped earn him a two-year, $4 million contract extension last month.

When asked if he was exceeding his own expectations, Shaw said, “Yes and no.”

“I always set high goals,” he said. “You’ve just always got to be pushing yourself.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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