The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the most talented groups of highly skilled offensive players in the NHL, with forwards such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa providing opposing coaches with a lot of concerns when constructing a game plan to stop them.
The Original Six club also has a mobile defense with a number of puck-moving blueliners, including Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
With all of this scoring talent, the Blackhawks finished regular season with the second-most goals scored and continued that success in the playoffs with a 2.76 goals-per-game average.
But the team's offense has been completely shut down by the structured, physical Boston Bruins defense and the goaltending of Tuukka Rask in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
After scoring four goals in a series-opening triple-overtime win, Chicago has put just one puck past Rask in the last two games, resulting in a 2-1 series deficit for the Windy City team.
Despite the team's lack of success in the attacking zone, the Blackhawks aren't getting discouraged.
"I’m confident with the players we have on this team. We’ve had no problem scoring goals, ever really, since I’ve been here," said Sharp.
"We’re in the Stanley Cup Final against a team that deserves to be here, is here because of the way they’ve played defensively and check away from the puck. So, it’s tough to score out there, but we’ve got to find a way. We know what’s on the line."
Who's to blame for this surprising ineffectiveness offensively from a team with an enormous amount of high-end skill?
Let's look at the people most responsible.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is known as a coach who's not afraid to shuffle his lines many times in the course of just a few minutes. In Game 1, he made several line changes after the first few shifts of the opening period.
Over the last two games, Chicago has used a lot of different line combinations, and many of these trios have not remained intact on a consistent basis.
Constantly tinkering the lines prevents players from being able to establish a rhythm offensively and develop chemistry with guys they rarely played alongside during the regular season and through most of the playoffs.
For example, Toews started Game 3 with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger, two players with a limited amount of offensive skill. It was basically a checking line for Quenneville to match up against the Bruins' top trio of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.
Mark Spector of Sportsnet.ca provided an interesting analysis of the Toews line during Monday's game.
When his team was struggling to generate high-quality scoring chances in Game 3, Quenneville finally put Kane and Toews together with Sharp during the third period, but it was too late.
Toews has now played with at least seven different wingers on the team's first line, which is not helping him find his game. Quenneville needs to find a trio and stick with it because frequently juggling his lines prevents his struggling forwards from earning some confidence and momentum.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien rarely changes his top two lines when one or a couple players are struggling, and this consistency helps these guys rediscover their game.
The Blackhawks need to load up their lines for the rest of the series, which means that Toews and Kane should be alongside each other on the top line regardless of how much they struggle. Quenneville has no other choice against a dominant Bruins defense.
Star Players Failing to Make an Impact
It's difficult to win in the playoffs when your star players are not playing up to expectations and the bottom-six forwards are also not contributing consistently.
As the chart below shows, Chicago is not getting the proper amount of scoring from its elite forwards and top defensemen.
The most notable disappointments from the Cup Final are Kane and Toews, who finished first and second on the team in scoring during the regular season, respectively. These two superstars combined for 17 goals in 22 games during the team's Stanley Cup run in 2010, but through 20 games in 2013, they have just seven goals between them.
Much of Toews' lack of offense can be attributed to the spectacular defense of Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, whose back checking, stick work and positioning have prevented the Blackhawks captain from creating scoring chances. Bergeron won 24 of his 28 faceoffs in Game 3, including all three of his draws against Toews.
If the Blackhawks' best forwards continue to get shut down by the Bruins' top defensive players, specifically Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Bergeron, they have no chance of winning this series.
Lack of Scoring Production from Defensemen
The Blackhawks have great speed, playmaking and offensive talent on their blue line. Keith and Seabrook are great defensively, but they also make a strong impact in the attacking zone with powerful shots from the point, great vision and impressive passing skills.
On the second pairing, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson give Chicago a speedy duo that helps the breakouts with great first passes out of the defensive zone.
Through three games, the Blackhawks have gotten just one goal from the blue line, which was an Oduya shot from the point that received a fortunate bounce off the skate of Andrew Ference in Game 1.
Overall, Chicago blueliners have contributed only two points (a goal and an assist) in this series after tallying 28 points in the first three rounds.
Boston's aggressive forecheck and physical play has worn down the Chicago defensemen, which has prevented them from having the time and space needed to start the breakout. If the Blackhawks blueliners are unable to handle this pressure and contribute offensively, it will be difficult for this team to win three of the next four games to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The Power Play is Failing to be a Momentum Changer
The Blackhawks power play reached a new low in Game 3, which didn't seem possible after the first two games at the United Center.
Chicago tallied only one shot on goal during five power-play opportunities on Monday.
One of the reasons for this was failing to enter the attacking zone cleanly. Whenever a Blackhawks player tried to cross the blue line, he was smothered by the Bruins defense and had the puck poke checked away on many occasions.
When Chicago decides to dump the puck behind the goal line, it's not winning enough puck battles against Boston to gain possession and create sustained offensive zone pressure.
"[The power play] could’ve been the difference last game if we score on the power play," said Hjalmarsson.
"Obviously [in Game 3] it would have been nice to get a couple of goals on the PP, but they do a good job, too. You play against a really good penalty killing, too, so it’s not that easy, but we have to create more chances."
Right now, the Bruins are able to play a very physical game and not be concerned about taking penalties because there is no reason to fear the Blackhawks power play.
Chicago has the level of talent needed to run a successful power play with Kane, Sharp and Toews on the first unit, but it needs to be more aggressive by taking a lot of shots and getting traffic in front of Rask. The Blackhawks are making it easy for the Bruins penalty kill to break up passes and clear the zone.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand.
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