There have been many positives since Denis Savard took over as head coach. As I see it, the list of negatives would be limited to one major issue facing the Blackhawks as they head toward the second half and a playoff run.
Every year, in recent memory, we seem to wonder why the Hawks cannot produce more on the power play. The personnel changes, so do the coaches, but the stats remain eerily similiar. As of this writing the Hawks had converted on just 11.7% of their man or two-man advantages (last year: 12.2).
That is last in the league and it will take some doing to move up the ranks. It's the Hawks version of Cubs pitching or Bear quarterbacking; and just like with those others, there is seemingly no answer to this perennial problem.
So it comes down to two important questions: Can it be fixed? And does it matter? Let's address the latter one first.
A cursory look at some stats since 1989-90 shows that a team finished last on the power play and made the playoffs five times. Most recently, the 2002-03 Devils had an 11.9 scoring percentage (about the same as the Hawks now) and finished 46-20-10-6.
That gives you hope if you're the Hawks, but then you remember that New Jersey trapped more than hunters during deer hunting season. So that example may be more of an anamoly because the Devils won with defense. It's still good to know, though, that it's possible to succeed with a below average power play.
But, of course, that was pre-lockout. A case could be made that it's more important to succeed with the man advantage now because everyone is getting more opportunities. Looking at last year's playoffs, none of the worst seven teams on the power play, in the regular season, made the playoffs. NONE! In fact, of the ten worst power plays in the league, only Tampa Bay made the playoffs and they were the eigth seed in the East. It's only one year, but those numbers are scary. So fixing it seems like a very good propisition.
Easier said than done. If I had the answer, I'd be on the bench in Savvy's old spot as an assistant. It's not fair to criticize, though, without at least trying to help. So here are my three general "solutions" in order:
- Make Jeff Hamilton the lead pilot of the power play with Adrian Acoin the number one shooter from the point. I know versions of this have been tried, but I'd let everyone know this is our best chance at getting something done. Hamilton is one of the smartest -- if not THE smartest -- player on the team and can skate, create, and shoot.
His one drawback is his puck strength, which could stop some rushes up ice. Aucoin has been blasting it since coming back from injury and he's been on target. The problem has been no screens, which means easy saves. I'd use Bondra and Wisniewski as my second set of D.
- My next two ideas are a little bit "outside the box" but not much. First is the idea of letting Havlat bring up the puck AND settle in at one of the points. With the extra room inside the attacking zone, it would give Havlat space to create plus give him a lane for his deceptive shot.
- Further out of the box would be to let Bryan Smolinski be the pilot. He's another smart player who also has good vision and passing abilities.
Once the Hawks set up in the zone, their puck movement hasn't been all bad, but it has to result in an open lane somewhere and it hasn't happened much of late. Troy Murray dubbed it a "buzz kill" when a power play isn't working. Obviously not getting goals is bad, but sometimes it even carries over to five on five play and brings the energy of the whole team down.
I thought that happened in the Boston game during that great 3rd period comeback. The Hawks had already scored three times and had the momentum until they recieved a late power play on a Brad Stuart penalty. Everything slowed down and that frenzy the Hawks had created went away. It's supposed to happen the other way around!
After all is said and done, I believe the good news is the Hawks CAN overcome this problem either by fixing it or winning despite it, like they did against St. Louis on Jan. 2. It will take the old 60 minute effort night in and night out, but the Hawks have the talent and the experience to win in different ways.
An extra goal with an extra man would make it a whole lot easier.
Email pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org