Blackhawks hope power play’s improvement against Coyotes sparks better stretch run

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson felt optimistic his team’s power play would eventually break out of its rut.

“There’s going to be a game where one goes in off a foot, and then we’re going to have a nice shot, and then they’ll start to grow some confidence with that,” Richardson said Saturday morning.

In the third period Saturday night against the Coyotes — even though the Hawks later crumbled to a 4-2 loss — the PP received the lucky break Richardson felt coming. Lukas Reichel drove the crease, Coyotes goalie Ivan Prosvetov lost a skate blade while poking the puck away and Caleb Jones scored into a gaping net with Prosvetov unable to reposition himself.

That was the highlight of the most eventful and active night the Hawks’ PP units have enjoyed in a while, although their official 1-for-5 line won’t blow any doors off.

The Hawks attempted a season-high 21 PP shots, tied a season high with 13 on goal and recorded 11 scoring chances, their second-most of the season.

“It would’ve been nice to get another one, [but] just having that sustained pressure, we did really well,” Richardson said. “That’s a good step. We’ve been working on it and talking about it, so it’s going in the right direction.”

Early this season, the Hawks were scoring at a decent clip on the PP, but it wasn’t sustainable. They entered Dec. 4 ranked 11th in the NHL with a 25.7% conversion rate but ranked 28th in PP shot rate (89.6 per 60 minutes) and 29th in PP scoring-chance rate (44.1 per 60 minutes)

Regression then struck ruthlessly. Since Dec. 4, the Hawks rank 32nd in PP conversion rate (11.6%), 26th in PP shot rate (91.3) and 31st in PP scoring-chance rate (43.8).

Assistant coach Derek Plante has overseen the PP units this season — with input from Richardson — but not much fault can be put on the coaching staff. This is primarily a lack-of-talent issue.

The staff seemingly realized that and made some adjustments starting in practice March 7 to simplify their PP tactics. They shuffled the units and largely eliminated the drop pass from their zone-entry attempts. Richardson admitted they perhaps “don’t have the personnel to do that” anymore.

Since then, the first line of Lukas Reichel, Philipp Kurashev and Andreas Athanasiou — plus Seth Jones at the point and MacKenzie Entwistle in the net-front role — have formed the first PP unit. But they haven’t found much more fruit either.

“It definitely hasn’t been good at all,” Kurashev said. “It starts with me on the faceoffs…and then we have to get the loose pucks back and be simple and execute. A lot of times, we have the open play, but we just fumble the puck or the pass is not in the right spot.

“It is frustrating, but we just have to play with a clear mind and not think about it too much.”

Then by coincidence Saturday, a long second-period shift for Seth Jones led him to go out with the second PP unit of Taylor Raddysh, Tyler Johnson, Jason Dickinson and Boris Katchouk, and that group established a rhythm.

They looked so dangerous that Richardson made them functionally the first unit for the two ensuing PP opportunities. They ultimately produced 10 of the Hawks’ 13 total PP shots on goal, even though the Reichel-led first unit (which swapped Jones brothers) scored the goal.

“Sometimes that just happens,” Richardson said. “You get a look at something and want to give it another go, and…it worked out both ways.”

It’s unclear how the two units’ ice time will balance out Monday against the Avalanche, but the Hawks will nonetheless try to finish putting Richardson’s prediction into existence by scoring a prettier PP goal. Perhaps that would actually spark them for the stretch run.

2023-03-20 02:12:08 ,

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