Ah, the elusive third goal. Something that's "plagued" the "struggling" Blackhawks all season long. In "all" of their losses (one in regulation, two in the shootout), they've scored two goals. In their two shootout victories, the third goal only showed up because of the shootout win. So what are the Blackhawks to do to end this "scourge" on their season? How can they end the horrible Stanley Cup hangover?
OK, obviously I'm laying the sarcasm on pretty thick here. In reality, the Hawks are in very little trouble. They have the third highest point total in the Western Conference, and have dominated most of the games they've played...including the losses. If not for a costly Brent Seabrook pinch in St. Louis, the Hawks would be riding another "no losses in regulation" streak.
The lack of scoring is a topic that warrants discussion, however.
Aside from their 6-4 win over Washington in the home opener, the Hawks haven't cracked the 4 goal mark. A team with this sort of firepower should be scoring with more consistency, especially considering the level of shot and puck possession dominance they've shown so far this season.
There are a few simple changes Joel Quenneville, and more importantly, the Blackhawk players can make to turn this around.
First, the Hawks could stop trying to be the Harlem Globetrotters, and keep the game simple. For as long as this "new era" of Blackhawk Hockey has been around, the extra pass or two, or three, or four has been what hurts them when their offense isn't clicking. The desire for the perfect play can become an obsession for the Blackhawks, and it's a big reason I believe their powerplay has never lived up to the potential it has on paper. Obviously, this is hard to quantify, but when it's there, you can see it very clearly.
Secondly, when they do finally opt to shoot, the Blackhawks need to hit the net. Let's look at last night's 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers. The Blackhawks were credited with 71 attempted shots. Of those shots, 29 were on goal, 27 were blocked, and 15 were credited as missed shots. Of those 15, I can clearly recall 3-4 that were point block opportunities that didn't even require a save. Remember Patrick Kane's breakaway? That was not a shot on goal. How about Brandon Saad's opportunity. He split the D beautifully, but failed to hit the net. Neither of the the Hawks' two best opportunities even required a save. Seemingly every game, you can count on Duncan Keith firing two or three prime scoring chances high or wide of the net. Again, this comes back to the obsession with the perfect play. Not every shot needs to pop the waterbottle. Score some ugly goals. It's how most teams have scored on the Blackhawks, including the St. Louis Blues, who have beaten the Hawks twice.
Aside from these philosophical adjustments, I think Joel Quenneville could take a look down his bench at a potential solution. This season, Brandon Pirri has played in four games, in which he's played a total of 39:04. He's scored 2 goals and 1 assist in that time. The Hawks' current second line center, Michal Handzus, has played in 8 games for a total of 105:48. He's also scored a total of 3 points. Obviously, this is a very simple way to look at things, but play along for a minute. In this season of preserving veterans for the playoff run and Olympics, doesn't it make sense to learn with the offensively gifted Pirri as your second line center? No veteran on the roster, aside from Marian Hossa, needs more rest and protection than the 36 year old Handzus.
Yes, it is perfectly clear than Pirri is not up to snuff defensively. He needs to improve his all around game, but if he's going to play on the NHL roster, doesn't it make sense to let him learn on the job. The reward of finally developing a legit second line center greatly outweighs the risks of upping his minutes and ice time, especially is he's centering two defensively solid wingers like Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
The time has come for Pirri to get an extended look as the second line center. If he does, it will pay dividends when the games matter in the spring and summer.
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