Chicago Blackhawks: Why Improved Special Teams Will Be Key to Success

Taylor GiffinCorrespondent IINovember 8, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 21:  Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks is pushed into Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings by Brad Stuart #23 at the United Center on February 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If the power play is not clicking and putting pucks into the net you can sometimes balance it off with a strong penalty kill. If you can not score, why not make it tough on the opposing team to do the same?

It worked for the Phoenix Coyotes, who last season were 29th in the league on the power play (13.6 percent) but were able to counter by being eighth on the penalty kill (85.5 percent).

It worked so well for them, in fact, they were able to knock off the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. Which of course, Hawks fans will still remember clearly.

If the Hawks plan on doing more damage this upcoming season (assuming a deal is made soon between the NHL and NHLPA, which is slowly starting to look more likely) they will have to—at the very least—improve one of their special teams drastically.

But, it would not be hard for the team to improve on both.

After all, they have a roster full of players who can kill penalties and work the puck in the offensive zone with a high degree of skill.

All it will take is a fresh start, some new systems put in place and guys working hard in every situation they are playing in.

Looking at the power play specifically, there is an unbelievable amount of talent to be used. So much so, it is unacceptable to have a power play percent as they did last campaign.

Last season, the Hawks were 26th in the NHL, converting on only 15.2 percent of their chances.

For a team who scored 241 goals during the regular season (sixth overall in the NHL), it is baffling as to why they could not convert on a pace similar when they had an extra attacker.

Having the ability to mix and match so many talented players means there should be no excuses for the coaching staff to find the right combinations.

Joel Quenneville and company should be watering at their mouths at the possible combinations they can use on the back end and up front on the power play—including the option of playing Patrick Sharp at either position.

Even with such lethal combinations to play with, they still have to convert on their chances. If the Hawks plan to return as Stanley Cup champions they will have to find a way to repeat their special team stats from the year they won the Cup.

In the 2009-10 season the Hawks were 16th in the league on the power play, converting 17.7 percent of the time. Not great, but a lot better.

If the team can set a goal to try and reach that percent this year they will find themselves to be a much better team.

As talented as this roster is, they still need to keep it simple and have some structure when they are on the power play.

Structure will allow for more creativity to happen. Creativity that results in goals and not turnovers or missed attempts. With no structure on the power play skilled players end up trying to do too much.

The Hawks have an abundance of players who work hard and can kill penalties with a high degree of talent. But, it still falls by the wayside the same as the power play does.

Last season, the team was ranked a dismal 27th in the NHL on the penalty kill. They were only able to kill 78.1 of the chances when the opposing team went a man up.

Considering the Hawks let opponents score 51 times—compared to the New Jersey Devils who only allowed 27 goals against on the penalty kill—just does not cut it.

This season they will need all their players ready to sacrifice. That means blocking shots, pressuring the puck and getting dirty in the corners and in front of the net.

Everyone will be rested with the extended break they have fortunately be given—or unfortunate, depending on how you view it.

Keith and Seabrook should find themselves back to their normal selves and Hjalmarsson has lots to prove this time around. With his skill at blocking shots, he can showcase some of his defensive talents on the penalty kill and become a big asset to this team.

Up front, Toews and Hossa should be back and fully healthy once a season gets rolling. Patrick Sharp has not been playing and is the type of player who will be raring to go right out of the gate.

In the pipes, Corey Crawford is going to need a big year. If he can get some confidence early in the season then that will also give more confidence to the Hawks as a whole.

A goalie playing well allows the rest of the team to play their games and not have to think.

All that needs to happen for the Hawks to improve on the penalty kill is to play to their capabilities—like they did in the 2009-10 cup winning season.

That year, the Hawks were fourth in the league on the penalty kill. The team will need to strive to be as close to the 85.3 percent kill rate they were that year in order to become a bonifide contender.

All in all, a few tweaks here and there would make a huge difference on the special teams. If the Hawks can become a top 10 team in both categories—which is not out of the question—they should find themselves fighting for home ice advantage and a playoff spot will be guaranteed.

Expect to see an improvement in both areas, after all, how could you not?


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