The Chicago Blackhawks have allowed power-play goals for a variety of reasons this season. Here are some possible reasons why the goals have occurred at a higher rate this season:
-- A lot has been made of Michael Frolik’s absence this season. It’s hard to believe one player had so much influence on the penalty-killing success, but he definitely played a large role in it. For one, Marcus Kruger and Frolik were together on almost all of their penalty-killing shifts last season. Kruger hasn’t had that consistency this season. His forward partners have been Michal Handzus, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith, Joakim Nordstrom and Brad Mills. Kruger was paired with either Shaw, Nordstrom or Smith for nine of the 24 power-play goals the Blackhawks have allowed this season. That lack of familiarity and lack of confidence have made the Blackhawks a weaker penalty-killing unit.
“We’ve been looking at how we did it last year and why it worked then,” Kruger recently said. “It seemed like we had more confidence when we were out there. Now it seems like we’re maybe up on our heals there and don’t want to get scored on. It almost felt nice last year to get a PK and kill that off.”
-- Frolik and Kruger were more aggressive and disruptive last season. After looking at games from last season, it’s noticeable how Frolik and Kruger were set up higher, were attacking the points more fiercely, were in synch with their switches and often broke up plays in the neutral zone. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have that down that pretty well this season. They have been on the ice together for five of the 24 power-play goals. Toews is second in shorthanded ice time and Hossa is fourth.
Michal Handzus thought being more aggressive was the key going forward.
“You got to be smart aggressive,” Handzus said recently. “Sometimes when you get scored on a lot, you tend to be a little bit passive and try to take a shooting lane and react to pucks. We got to recognize those pressure points and where you have to pressure and recognize where you don’t pressure because if you pressure and they have the puck everything opens up. You got to be little bit smart about that. We are hesitant about switches and pressure points. It’s kind of always a little bit of a step behind.”
-- Another difference this season is the Blackhawks aren’t creating shorthanded chances. It’s not the goal of the penalty kill to get offensive, but it’s another sign the Blackhawks haven’t been able to take the puck away from opponents during their power plays. The Blackhawks were sixth in the league with 40 shorthanded shots on goal last season. The Blackhawks created a shorthanded shot once every 3.5 power plays last season. They rank 29th this season with 10 shorthanded shots on goal. They are getting a shot on goal once ever nine power plays.
-- Saad has seen less time on the penalty kill as of late, but he was having success there. He was on the ice for two power-play goals and is third among forwards with shorthanded ice time. He probably has the skill set most comparable to Frolik among the penalty killers. Handzus has also been fine there.
-- None of the power-plays goals Corey Crawford allowed were truly soft, but his dismal shorthanded save percentage has to be noted. He has a shorthanded save percentage of .784, and he’s allowed 19 goals on 88 shots. His previous worst shorthanded save percentage was .829 (179-of-216) in the 2011-12 season. His highest was last season at .896 (103-of-115). Nikolai Khabibulin also has allowed three power-play goals on nine shots, and Antti Raanta has given up two goals on 18 shots.
-- The Blackhawks are coming off their best penalty-killing game as they shut out the Florida Panthers on all five power plays. Yes, it was the Panthers, who are among the league’s worst power-play teams, but the Blackhawks’ penalty kill needs confidence as much as anything right now. The Dallas Stars are also at the bottom of the league, so the Blackhawks have a chance again Tuesday to improve their percentage.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville thought confidence was a major factor for the penalty kill.
“When you’re not having success, there’s a little hesitation,” Quenneville said recently. “Whether the confidence seems to be seamless and you just go, go, go. We’d like to have a little bit more pressure. Hopefully that can take away the hesitation and get predictable in the movements, getting quicker in the lane and the lines and more effective. I think that goes hand in hand when you’re feeling it and you’re confident and comfortable it’s just natural. I think there were some stretches this year where it was moving the right way and it ended up going in and the end of day slows you down a little bit.”