The Calgary Flames scored two goals in regulation against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night. Both were on the power play.
Neither should have surprised you, despite Calgary previously having gone 1-for-25 on the power play, because Chicago’s penalty kill is demonstrably the worst thing in hockey right now. Yes, they managed to kill a double-minor later in the game, but we’ll just go ahead and assume Glen Gulutzan just simply forgot to tell his team they were on the power play. Seems like a Glen Gulutzan thing to do.
Their PK is worse than the Los Angeles Kings’ goaltending situation. Yes, worse than the New York Islanders’ power play, which is at 6.7 percent. Yes, worse than the Arizona Coyotes, who have two points in five games. It’s unfathomably terrible right now.
A quick look at the standings!
At home, the Blackhawks have been shorthanded 18 times in five games, and have given up nine goals, the most for any team on home ice.
On the road, the Blackhawks have been shorthanded eight times in two games and have given up five power-play goals. That’s the same number of goals that the Colorado Avalanche have given up on the road PK. Except they’ve played two more games and killed 11 more power plays.
The Chicago Blackhawks have a 37.5 penalty kill conversation rate on the road. If road penalty kills were the U.S. presidential election, the Blackhawks would be Jill Stein.
“It just seems no matter what, it finds a way,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “A different way, every time.”
So let us count the ways. Why does the Blackhawks’ penalty kill suck right now?
Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith have each been out there for nine power-play goals against. Jonathan Toews has been out there for seven of the 14 power-play goals, while Marcus Kruger has been out there for six.
In theory, Kruger is your lock-down guy, like he was back when he and Michael Frolik were arguably the best duo on the PK in the conference. They’ve tried pairing him with rookie Tyler Motte and it hasn’t worked.
Corey Crawford, meanwhile, has faced nine high-danger chances on the PK and let in six goals, giving him the lowest HD save percentage in the league on the penalty kill (via Corsica). That ranks fifth in high-danger chances shorthanded and first in goals allowed. He’s not bailing them out.
Overall, the Blackhawks are far too passive on the power play. They aren’t even attempting to pressure the point, resulting in their opposition being able to set up for easy, uncontested shots or passes. This passiveness trickles down, as well; the Blackhawk are being outshot 54 to nothing when they are shorthanded, leaving them as the only team in the NHL without a shorthanded SOG, per Natural Stat Trick. This is already a huge change from the 2015-16 season, in which they tied for third in the NHL with 10 shorthanded goals.
The solution here may not be as simple as “be more aggressive,” but that’s where the Blackhawks have to start. They need to be forcing their opponent’s point players to make a play with the puck, not letting them do so. Making that change likely won’t turn them into an elite penalty killing team, but it’ll be a step in the right direction towards preventing more power play goals than they allow.
Specifically, he feels they need to pressure the point men more.
Crawl into the fetal position in the corner and wait until the shooting stops.
OK, seriously: These things are cyclical. The underlying factors tell you that the penalty kill isn’t going to be a dominant group – and the fact is that last season they were No. 22 in the League at an 80.3 percent clip. But it should cycle back up to respectability; especially when Andrew Desjardins, an effective player on the PK last season, returns from injury.
But right now, it’s cutting the legs out from under this team, and the main culprit behind their middling 3-3-1 start. The good news is it should get better, because it can’t get much worse. The better news is that no one in Chicago is going to really care until about a week and a half from now…
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