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A potential fix for the struggling Blackhawks power play

We’ve written about it, the team’s beat reporters have asked about it and the players have talked about it: the Chicago Blackhawks’ power play has been awful this season.

After being shutout again on Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks, the power play’s conversion rate dropped to 14.97%, good for 29th in the league. Even worse than the lack of scoring has been the complete lack of chances generated by Chicago’s man advantages.

There aren’t many good things to say about the state of Chicago’s power play. But in a desperate search for solutions, one has emerged over the last few games that could at least generate some scoring chances and, Hossa willing, maybe even a goal or two.

The Blackhawks need to attack the net off the rush during the power play.

To borrow a few terms from basketball, Chicago’s half-court offense on the power play has been dreadful. It largely consists of: 1) Get the puck to Patrick Kane and 2) Wait for him to do something that will result in a goal. But as the above numbers indicate, that’s not working so well. Perhaps a fast break attack could, though.

Let’s see a few examples of what this would look like, using this week’s games against Nashville and Vancouver for film study.

There have been complaints about the Hawks using a neutral zone drop pass to build speed upon entry, but it seems like getting into the offensive zone hasn’t been the real problem here. On this second-period power play from Tuesday night, Brent Seabrook drops the puck to Kane, who passes to Nick Schmaltz with Artem Anisimov and Vinnie Hinostroza at the blue line along the left and right walls, respectively. With a full head of steam, Schmaltz gets into the zone easily.

And here you see where the speed of Kane and Schmaltz could cause fast break problems. Chicago has a 2-on-1 here, although Schmaltz would be in a better position to capitalize if he were closer to the middle of the ice. A pass may not be a great option with a Nashville defender in the way, but the lane is wide open for a shot on goal. Perhaps a low, hard shot at the goalie’s pads triggers a rebound that Kane can corral and put in the net. Or maybe it kicks out to Anisimov, who is heading to the net as well but just out of frame here (Replacing Anisimov with someone who’d be able to keep up with Schmaltz and Kane on these rushes wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either).

Instead, Schmaltz worked the puck back to Hinostroza and Chicago played catch for a while before Nashville got control and cleared.

Here’s another look from later in the same power play.

The entry looks almost identical. But this time, Schmaltz passes to Kane, who touches it over to Anisimov on the left wing boards and Chicago once again has quick entry into the zone.

A few moments later, Anisimov is in the same spot as Schmaltz was, but on the other side of the ice. He’s got the puck on his forehand with two teammates streaking towards the net. Again, a low, hard shot at the goalie’s pads could create rebound opportunities for either Kane or Schmaltz. Instead, Anisimov tried a low-percentage pass all the way across to Hinostroza, who mishandled the puck and Nashville ultimately cleared the zone.

Want to see the chances that can be generated by a team attacking the net off the rush on its power play? Check out what the other power play unit did against Vancouver on Thursday night.

This group hasn’t been using the drop pass method as much, but they didn’t have trouble getting entry on this first-period power play rush. It’s a simple 3-on-3 right now, but Jonathan Toews gets the puck to Anthony Duclair, who uses his speed to get Chicago into the zone.

A few seconds later, Duclair has the puck and is starting to turn the corner on Vancouver’s defense. At the same time, Toews is heading straight for the goal. Duclair gets around his defender just enough to open up a lane for a centering pass to the hard-charging Toews.

The puck is highlighted by a red circle. Duclair and Toews have both beaten their checks, and this looks like it should be a goal, with Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom over-committed to his right. Unfortunately, this pass was off the mark by inches, preventing Toews from putting it into a gaping net. But this quick rush, which took about five seconds to develop, has been the closest Chicago has come to scoring a power play goal in the last two games.

And these quick attacks don’t have to be the end of the power plays. If they don’t work, Chicago can fight for the loose puck and then setup its in-zone attack that they’ve been using all season long. But passing up the opportunity to get the puck on net off the rush feels like a wasted scoring chance for a power play unit that’s failed to generate a consistent scoring threat this season.

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