Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks' power play same ol' crash for clunkers, but does it matter?

sharpdallas.jpgSo you think the Blackhawks power play is going to dramatically improve down the stretch? Why?

What possible reason could there be to believe that?

It is what it was. If you see a way they are going to turn it around, I'd like to hear from you. Otherwise, it doesn't figure if you look at the figures.

Last year, their power play produced a 19.3 success ratio (tied for 11th in the league) and they managed to battle and claw their way into the Western Conference finals before losing to Detroit, the NHL's top power play last season at 25.2.

Some things don't change. This year the Chicago power play is once again clicking at the very same 19.3 per cent, a rather eerie repeat of 2008-09.

They are currently 8th best in the NHL, less successful with this special teams' focus than conference rivals San Jose's 24.9 and Vancouver's 21.4. And still the Hawks are one of the toughest clubs to beat in the league.

Will their uncertain power play be a deal breaker on the way to their Stanley Cup dreams? With their ability to kill penalties as well as the next guy and better than most, the inconsistent power play is allowed to be second-class on a first-class club.

I think we're going to have to live with that fact.

The Hawks have allowed their last four opponents to score one power-play goal each against them. Meanwhile, the Hawks have gone six straight games without a power-play score. That is a 0-for-19 stretch in which the Hawks lost to Phoenix in a shootout and absorbed defeats as well against St. Louis and Carolina.

They won three times in this period without need of a power-play goals by besting Dallas in that Tuesday night shootout at the UC and playing hard in St. Louis last Saturday to earn a 2-1 win. It just so happened that goalie Andy Niemi was in goal for both those efforts.

On Jan. 28, the game that began their power-play drought, the Hawks managed to topple those powerful Sharks 4-3 in overtime in San Jose. Cristobal Huet notched the victory. So the 3-3 record without a power-play score shows the Hawks are good no matter what, even if they can be very mediocre as a .500 team without benefitting from their power play chances.

The Hawks haven't splurged and scored a pair of power-play goals since Jan. 16 against Columbus. They haven't scored a pair of power-play goals on home ice since Dec. 1 against those same Blue Jackets. One PP is about all they can muster at their finest.

The Hawks continue to be one of the elite members of the NHL in spite of their power play, and you have to ask yourself if that's going to be the Achilles heel that might bring them down in the postseason or just a weakness on the club that is offset by other strengths.

Maybe being in the top three or four in power play doesn't matter for this Chicago team. No one can be the best at everything.

For the second straight season, as well, the Hawks' power play on home ice is not nearly as effective as when they play on the road. In front of their Chicago fans, they don't return all that love by scoring very much on the man advantage. There is no home advantage with their man advantage.

That sounds like a problem. But is it?

Last year, the Hawks succeeded just 17.8 per cent of the time at United Center. This season it's 15.4.

And yet the Hawks are 22-6-2 at home, a worthy match for the Canucks' 23-7-1 at home and the Sharks being 19-5-7 in front of their fans. The Hawks simply have a different skill set than the Canucks and Sharks.

Going by past form, there is no way to point to one or two players who will seriously find a way to upgrade the Chicago power play in the remaining games.

Patrick Sharp is certainly below form from last season, when he scored 9 power-play goals in 61 games. He also had 9 in 80 games in '07-'08.

So for Sharp to have just 3 power-play goals so far can be viewed as one reason the category isn't generating a little better than it is.

But the top two power-play producers of last year in Jonathan Toews (12) and Patrick Kane (13) are basically on schedule. Toews has 7 power-play scores to date, Kane 6.

Big offseason addition Marian Hossa scored 10 on the PP for Detroit last season in 74 games and has just a pair of PPs in 36 games for the Hawks. So if you want to point at Sharp and Hossa as two guys that need to make a little more impact on the PP, go ahead. No arguing that.

And yet there just isn't much reason to believe the power play will be a major force. Troy Brouwer already has 7 PP goals, ahead of his 4 last season. Even Byfuglien has 4, ahead of his 3 from '08-'09. Brian Campbell has 3, 1 short of his PP output last season. But does Brouwer really have another 4, 5 PP goals in him?

Kris Versteeg needs three more PP goals to equal his 6 from a season ago.

In the 2009 postseason, Toews led the way with 5 PPs, followed by three each for Sharp and Versteeg. Kane and Campbell each had a pair. Marty Havlat, who had 5 in the regular season, didn't score on the PP in the playoffs.

So the Hawks are what they are. And what they aren't is a power-play powerhouse. And they won't be one any time soon.

While we might look for a bit better production the rest of the season, that doesn't mean you are going to see a lot of improvements.

The most we can ask for is clutch power-play goals in critical situations when the squeaky close outcomes hang in the balance.

Beyond that, asking too much of the Chicago power play sounds like a futile exercise to me.

Like Huet, it has its shortcomings. That doesn't mean the team can't succeed if it plays a cohesive team game with a so-so power play and a so-so starting goalie, neither of whom blows your socks off.

We all would like to be more well-rounded. But even the brilliant Hawks have to get by with grit rather than glory much of the time.

Maybe it's not quite as pretty as Alex Ovechkin scoring 10 PPS for Washington by this junction and Nicklas Backstrom another 11. Or Dany Heatley piling up 14 PP goals for the Sharks.

But as long as the Hawks find other ways to make up for a mundane power play, we'll take it and relish the team victory...and keep muttering to ourselves why the power play really can't be better.

Such is life. Not always ideal, even for the richly talented Hawks.

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5 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Like you say, Michael, does it really matter?

While the Olympians go try and grab some gold, the rest get some rest.

During the break, Q and the Hawkey Brain Trust will order up PowerPlayMagic...the great new all purpose product, from the same people who brought you Sham WOW!, SlapChop and Five Hour Energy.

Meanwhile, the Huet Haters will clamor to trade Cristo for anyone who is available.

Chris said:

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You point to Chicago's PP % during last years regular season, but don't even mention that during the playoffs the Blackhawks had the best PP% in the NHL. So, while their PP unit wasn't top 10, it became elite come playoff time.

Also, you haven't accounted for potential changes to the PP units that may occur due to trade deadline moves. A right-handed shot would give the Hawks some flexibility on the PP and allow them to move Buff to a position in front of the net. This is the same position he occupied during last years playoffs, which as I've already noted, was a pretty successful PP unit.

Mike Kiley said:

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Very valid points. Chicago's 27.9 per cent power play in the 09 postseason was indeed the best. I guess if we plan to step it up again in the playoffs way beyond what happened in the regular season, we can all breathe easy. As I said, as long as they score in the crucial junctions, a mostly ragged power play overall might be beside the point.

Dean Youngblood said:

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Their scoring is down in general. They have only scored 22 goals in the last 10 games. The team uses basically the same formations for all offensive plays, power play or not. They need new routines and more practice. Regardless of who is in the net, they just are not going to win a lot games scoring only a goal or two.

SharpKane said:

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They need more tic-tac plays, every pass results in a holding pattern, and that is just plain dumb.

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