Hawks storylines (No. 18): Special teams

ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks' special teams have been like a teeter-totter over the past five seasons.

When the power play has been up, the penalty kill has often been down, and the other way around. Rarely have the Blackhawks had sustained success from both units at the same time. It's something they'll strive for this season.

In the 2009-2010 season, the Blackhawks ranked fourth in the NHL with an 85.3 penalty-kill percentage and 16th with a 17.7 power-play percentage. In the 2010-11 season, they were 25th on the penalty kill (79.2 percent) and fourth on the power play (23.1 percent).

In the 2011-12 season, they were 26th on the power play (15.2 percent) and 27th on the penalty kill (78.1 percent). In the 2012-13 season, they were 19th on the power play (16.7 percent) and third on the penalty kill (87.2 percent).

Last season, the power play ranked 10th with a 19.5 percentage and 19th on the penalty kill with a 81.4 percentage.

The Blackhawks' penalty kill improved as last season progressed. The penalty kill was 28th in the league at 76 percent after 41 games and improved over the second half of the season.

The forward pairing of Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus played a role in the Blackhawks' penalty-kill improvement last season. Kruger will have a new partner for the third consecutive season as Handzus was not re-signed by the Blackhawks. Brandon Saad and Ben Smith could be candidates for that role.

How much goaltending factors into the penalty kill is difficult to evaluate, but it hasn't been an area of strength for Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford throughout his career. He has an .861 save percentage (680 saves on 790 shots) against opponents' power plays during his four seasons as the team's No. 1 goalie. His primary backups had an .891 save percentage (427 saves on 479 shots) during those four seasons.

Crawford's numbers have gotten better in the playoffs. He had a .907 save percentage (337 saves on 365 shots) against power plays during the playoffs the past four seasons.

The Blackhawks' power play cracked the top 10 last season for just the second time in the past five seasons. The Blackhawks' inconsistencies on the power play are surprising considering they have finished in the top-5 in goals-per-game in three of the past five seasons. They do possess the firepower to score.

Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane led the way for the Blackhawks' power play last season. Sharp had 10 goals and 15 assists and his 25 power-play points was only second to his 26 points in the 2010-11 season. Kane also had 10 goals and 15 assists. He had a career-high 35 power-play points in the 2009-10 season.

The Blackhawks should have nearly the same personnel back on the power play, returning Sharp, Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw from the first unit, and Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Nick Leddy and Brent Seabrook from the second unit. Kris Versteeg, Ben Smith and Bryan Bickell also played on the power play last season. Brad Richards led the New York Rangers in power-play ice time and had five goals and 14 assists in that role.

Jamie Kompon, who coached the Blackhawks' power play last season and left the team to take a job in the Western Hockey League this season, said recently the Blackhawks still have room for growth on the power play.

"At the start, it was a work in progress," Kompon said in July. "I didn't know them. Part of it was we never shot the puck enough. We had enough skill out there. We were unselfish. This year the big thing is we had the shot mentality. Everything opened up. Also our puck retrieval was excellent. Overall, it can still get better. I think there's another level there."