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NHL coaches dissect Chicago's dormant power play

Tuesday, 06.18.2013 / 5:27 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

BOSTON -- As one Western Conference coach was saying during a telephone conversation Tuesday afternoon, power plays are an interesting science because there are times when you feel confident and the puck just goes in, but there are other times when the harder you try the worse it looks.

"To me, that's where the Chicago Blackhawks are at right now," the Western Conference coach told NHL.com. "They've gone from probably talking about it to death to trying different things. Now they look flustered on it and it shows in the poise with which they play."

The Blackhawks are 0-for-11 on the power play in the Stanley Cup Final and they trail the best-of-7 series to the Boston Bruins, 2-1. They are 0-for-20 on the power play dating back to Bryan Bickell's goal in the second period of Game 2 of the Western Conference Final.

Their breakouts are sloppy and their entries are poor. They're getting outnumbered on the puck and at times they're getting out-chanced, like they did in Game 3 on Monday. Faceoffs are a problem, too, as the Blackhawks have won six of 17 faceoffs in the Cup Final when they have the power play.

NHL.com spoke to three Western Conference coaches who wanted to stay anonymous in order to properly and honestly dissect the problems the Blackhawks are experiencing on the power play and what possible solutions they could come up with to make it at least dangerous Wednesday in Game 4 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

PROBLEMS

The coaches commented on how nervous the Blackhawks look when they have the puck on the power play. In particular, one pointed to Patrick Kane, who typically plays on the right-wing half-wall.

"Kane to me is a really dangerous player when he gets the puck on the half-wall, but when he gets it there he's fidgety now," the coach said. "If it's one thing you can tell them is try to play with more poise and don't be in such a hurry to get things done. They want to get Boston standing rather than trying to make quick plays that enable the Bruins to pressure."

The coach pointed to the Bruins' power play as an example for how poise matters.

"There was an incident [Monday] night with Boston's power play, where [Jaromir] Jagr gets it on the side and he's still moving back and forth but he's letting everybody get to position and then they actually put it all together," he said. "To me, that's what Chicago is missing."

Poise or hesitation, particularly at the points, is giving the Bruins a chance to anticipate the next play, another coach said.

"What happens when series go on is, if you don't score early, the penalty killers get a real bead on you and then they anticipate where it's going, their reads are automatic and then they get really, really aggressive," he said. "Boston's anticipation on where the puck is being moved up high is unnerving Chicago. If Chicago goes to make a D-to-D pass, Boston anticipates it and now they're on an odd-man break."

When Chicago does manage to get the puck in deep, into the corners, two of the three coaches said they have noticed that Boston is outnumbering the Blackhawks in pursuit of the puck.

"That should never happen," a coach said.

The third coach diagrammed how the Bruins are basically putting a box around the puck with one defenseman on it, the other on the wall just below the puck, a forward on the wall above it and the fourth guy in the middle, just below the hash marks.

"When you give up possession and they have four going after it, but your 'D' are out at the points, so you have only three," he said. "Boston waits and as there is a bobble or a rim or a lack of possession, they get four guys around the puck full-out hard. They've got big, heavy people on the back, they're winning those battles and they're clearing it 200 feet."

SOLUTIONS

If the Blackhawks could win some faceoffs they wouldn't have to worry about some of these problems. They won only one of seven draws while on the power play in Game 3 after going 5-for-10 during the first two games.

"If your power-play breakout and entry isn't going, then win the faceoff because then you don't have to do it," one coach said. "If you have Bergeron winning 86 percent of the faceoffs, that's a great way to start on the penalty kill. Now that means you've got to break out, and the way Boston does it is they almost force you to give up the puck."

And none of the coaches NHL.com spoke to believe the Blackhawks should try to avoid that. They all said the Blackhawks need to simplify their power play by getting it in behind the Bruins' penalty killers -- either through a dump-and-chase or a rim around the boards.

However, the second part of that equation involves entering the zone with speed. The puck will be faster than the players, but if the Blackhawks chip it in and then go hard and fast after the puck, they may be able to beat the Bruins' four-man pressure on the puck.

"If you're carrying the puck, speed is harder to defend, and if you have to put it behind them, dump it; speed will get you the puck quicker," one of the coaches said. "It goes back to poise with speed. You look at the Sedins [in Vancouver], they're not coming up ultra-fast but they have poise with the puck and they make good plays. You look at Detroit's power play with [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk, they're not blazing but they're fast enough to where they are hard to check and they have that ultra-poise with the puck. That's what Chicago is missing."

Along with speed is the need to make sure they use a middle man to bounce the puck off, especially when it gets deep into the corner and the Bruins are putting that box around the puck, as described earlier.

The middle man has to get inside the Bruins' forward who is standing near the hash marks. He needs to get the puck and quickly bounce it back outside because, as the coach described, the theory is that by playing the puck inside and then outside, the Blackhawks should be able to get it back to the point.

If they can then find some poise at the points, Chicago should be able to make a quick D-to-D pass and, "now you've got them penalty killing," one coach said. "When Boston gets four guys around the puck, that's not even penalty killing, they've got more guys on the puck than you do. It's almost a power play for the Bruins."

Making that type of play work involves structure, which the Blackhawks haven't had on the power play. But as one coach pointed out, it's hard to have structure when you don't have the puck.

"They try to go to structure before they have clear possession of the puck, so they're standing there in structure but they don't have the puck and Boston outworks them," he said. "This is, quite frankly, simply four guys outworking five guys. The five guys have to have a 5-on-5 mentality and the structure will take care of itself once you've worn them down.

"The best way to describe it is get into a competitive mode before you get into any structure."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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