If I can summarize the Chicago Blackhawks power play performance from the last two seasons in a single tweet, it’d be this one from former Chicago Tribune reporter Chris Hine in November:
Blackhawks get another power play as Cullen heads off for holding. No they can't decline the penalty.— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) November 5, 2017
The man advantage has been more of a detriment to Chicago for the last two seasons. During the 2016-17 season, Chicago was ranked 19th in the NHL with an 18.03 percent power play percentage. This season, it plummeted to 29th in the league, scoring just 17.18 percent of the time.
It did have a few brief stretches of competence. During a 6-game span in November, the power play went 8-for-21 (38 percent), with the Hawks winning four of those games. It also erupted for four goals during an 8-2 drubbing of a dismal Ottawa Senators team on January 9. But at its lowest point, it had 42 opportunities in 12 games in late November and early/mid December and scored just twice (4.8 percent).
It’s no secret, either. We’ve written about it. NBC Sports Chicago has written about it. Hine wrote about it before Halloween. Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mark Lazerus wrote about it around Valentines Day. There was even a post-practice discussion about the power play woes in late January, as The Daily Herald’s John Dietz chronicled in this article. But the problems never subsided and the man advantage remained an issue all season long.
The power play struggles were always evident and they may have overshadowed another issue with the 2017-18 Blackhawks: the penalty kill. Long considered one of Chicago’s strengths, the PK was ranked 20th in the league at just 79.24 percent. It was especially brutal during the 16 games played in March. Chicago killed just 26 of its 41 penalties in that span, a 63.4 percent rate that wouldn’t hold up at any level of hockey.
Not having Corey Crawford in the lineup certainly affected those numbers, a nod to the conventional wisdom that goaltenders have to be a team’s best penalty killer. The collective save percentage of Chicago goalies, when shorthanded this season, was 87.11 percent, good for 16th in the league according to Natural Stat Trick. But another statistic at that same website suggests the players in front of Chicago’s net were just as responsible for those PK issues. On the penalty kill, Chicago’s rate of high-danger chances against per 60 minutes was 26.42, the third-highest number in the league.
Chicago had plenty of issues at even strength this season, with a goal differential of minus-26 when playing five-a-side hockey. Whether they needed a crucial goal on the power play or had to prevent one while on the penalty kill, though, the Blackhawks special teams rarely delivered during the 2017-18 NHL season.