Following the crosscheck from Alex Pavlovic that knocked Patrick Kane out of the game between the Blackhawks and Panthers on Feb. 24, Jonathan Toews scored a power play goal to put the team up, 1-0. At the time, we had no idea how badly Kane had been injured, or how exactly it would affect the team going forward.
Now we know, from Kane's 12-week absence to the big trades for Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen, that it wasn't going to be some small thing. We've also quickly discovered how lifeless the Blackhawks' power play can be without its most dynamic scorer.
Since that Toews goal against Florida over two weeks ago, the Blackhawks have gone 0-of-15 on the power play, with some increasingly ugly aesthetics. The team's four tries with the man advantage against the Rangers yielded few scoring opportunities, led alone actual goals. It's the kind of issues we had not seen from the power play before, when players were spending too much time skating and passing instead of pressuring and shooting.
Against New York, even that would've been nice compared to the countless failed attempts to enter the zone. It was hard to keep track of how many times we saw Chicago's players skating back into their zone to re-set after a successful clearing by the opponent. It's clearly messed with the team's mojo to some degree -- those should be the best chances to exert pressure on the defense -- and now we're just wondering whether we underestimated Kane's importance to the whole equation.
"We realize how fortunate we are when you have Kane on the power play, be it entries, loose pucks, play recognition," Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago on Sunday. "There’s a void there and opportunity. Someone has to seize it and grab it. When we do that it’ll be a big difference to our team game."
Indeed, it's become clear that Kane's ability to not only pass and shoot, but drive possession into the offensive end was key to the Blackhawks' success. There aren't many guys on the team who can skate with the puck like Kane can, and that was apparent throughout the failed power plays Sunday against New York.
That's a problem on its own, but the fact that the team believes it's bleeding into other aspects of the game is even more concerning. The Blackhawks have long been one of the most confident teams in the league, which often explained their less urgent attitude toward random midseason games, but it's not a good sign when the coach sees guys struggling to get into the flow of things.
"It slows our team game down," Quenneville said. "The guys who are out there, they don’t get the production and then they get the hesitation to their game and it slows us down. In the last 10 games it’s happened too many times."
There's not that long to figure this out, and it's just one of several issues the 'Hawks face these days, but Q might be onto something. Guys seem to be waiting for things to come to them rather than forcing the issue, and defenses are content to let that happen and fight off things from the blue line back.
That's part of why the role of Teuvo Teravainen is going to be so important going forward. The 20-year-old Finnish forward is one of the few players on the roster capable of driving through the defense and dishing a perfect pass, and while he's not as physical as you'd maybe like from a key contributor, he's shown enough stick skill, speed and guile to keep possession and make things happen even while his frame fills out.
Even if Teravainen was largely responsible for the Rangers' game-winning goal on Sunday when he lost his assignment in transition, I hope that the team accepts those mistakes as learning experiences and keeps playing him. His offensive skill is just too valuable, and a lot of that defensive improvement could be expedited by letting him figure things out at NHL speeds.
I know the sample size makes things borderline worthless, but with Teuvo on the power play in recent games, the Blackhawks have a perfect Corsi. We're talking 12 shots for and zero shots against in the 7.3 minutes that Teravainen has spent on the power play. Just let him keep working at that, and I have a hard time believing we won't see results eventually. It's not like the numbers disagree with my eyes -- Teuvo has often been the Blackhawks' most impressive player in recent games.
There's no obvious solution to this problem, but keeping Teuvo as an integral part of the man advantage would seem to be one way of addressing this. The alternatives aren't exactly appealing, either, so let the kid do his thing and hopefully we can get used to watching him light the lamp for the next few years.
The power play may solve itself anyway -- guys like Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp should be better than this, basically -- but it's been too long to keep sitting on our hands. Teravainen is showing he can stir things up on the man advantage, and let's hope the team lets him see that through.