CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have an arsenal of offensive players.
Coach Joel Quenneville has at his disposal eight to 10 players who could be considered top-six players. It’s often considered an embarrassment of riches, and the Blackhawks have used that depth to win two Stanley Cups since 2010 and make five Western Conference finals trips in the past seven seasons.
And with all that individual talent, it would only make sense for the Blackhawks to also possess one of the league’s most dominant power plays. Combine five of the Blackhawks’ top players and subtract one player from the opposing team, how couldn’t that give the Blackhawks a serious advantage?
Well, it hasn’t. The Blackhawks have finished in the bottom half of the league in power-play percentage four of the past seven seasons and just once in the top five.
It’s baffled the Blackhawks and their fans. The Blackhawks have gone through different power-play coaches -- Kevin Dineen is currently in charge -- and have tried different personnel and strategies, but the results have often been the same. The power play is good at times and bad at others.
This regular season it was slightly more bad than good, and the Blackhawks finished 20th in the NHL with a 17.6 power-play success rate. A season ago, they were on the better side and were 10th with a 19.5 percentage.
Their best recent results came in the 2010-11 season, when they were fourth in the league with a 23.1 percentage. The next season they endured their worst results and were 26th with a 15.2 percentage. It doesn’t make sense to the Blackhawks.
“We feel we have a lot of talent in here,” Kane said. “We feel we have all the right tools to have a good power play. There’s really no reason, no excuse that we don’t.”
The Blackhawks have proved twice you don’t need a stellar power play to win a Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks were 19th in the league with a 16.7 power-play percentage in the regular season when they won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and were 16th with a 17.7 percentage when they won it in 2010.
Yet they would like a more consistent and productive power play.
“It’s always important to us,” Kane said. “Even the year we won it, in 2013, I don’t think we had a great power play. Still found a way to win, but it was because our penalty kill was that much better on the other side. Special teams is a huge part of the game. It’s very important to get these looks at it and make sure we’re capitalizing on it. When we do get the opportunities, make sure we’re working hard or working harder than the penalty kill.”
Quenneville has never downplayed the importance of the power play. When the Blackhawks weren’t producing goals entering the playoffs, he again emphasized the need for a better power play.
“We were talking about our power play, how important that is,” Quenneville said. “I think that’s an area that can help us with our not scoring, the dry spell offensively. I think our power play really has been OK for too long a stretch here, and we need that to get some confidence before we start the power play. That’s what we’re looking for. Easier said than done.”
The easier-said-than-done aspect is something Quenneville has learned over the years. The Blackhawks’ power play has fluctuated more than any part of their game. It can be cruising one game and falter the next one.
The Blackhawks have experienced those highs and lows throughout this season’s playoffs. They scored two power-play goals in the opening game of the playoffs against the Nashville Predators and then went 11 chances over the next four games without a goal.
In Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks won partly because they scored two power-play goals. In Game 3, they lost partly because they were 0-for-5 on the power play, when they had 9:18 of power-play ice time yet produced just one shot on goal.
“It would have been nice to capitalize, didn’t happen,” Sharp said. “Those things happen at times. It’s frustrating. As I said, if we get another chance next game, hopefully we’ll score.”
The Blackhawks’ main issue in Game 3 was entering the offensive zone and setting up their power play. They struggled to keep the puck in the zone and often had to chase it back to their own end and prepare for another breakout. The Blackhawks' first power-play unit has been Kane, Toews, Sharp, Keith and Andrew Shaw, and the second unit has been Saad, Hossa, Richards, Brent Seabrook and Bryan Bickell.
The Blackhawks will be back to the drawing board for their power play. As much as it’s been hit or miss, they still have confidence that it can be successful.
“I don’t think our entries are very good,” Kane said after Thursday’s loss. “Didn’t seem to get the puck back when we were battling for it. I think it was just, we let them have some easy clears, too. That’s got to be way better, and we will be better at that. We’ll make some adjustments and figure it out and fix it ... when those opportunities come next game.”