Everything Else

It seems awfully simple to say the Hawks have gone as their power play has gone, but that’s basically the drill. It has dried up when it absolutely couldn’t of late, with a marker against Vancouver and last night’s Anisimov deflection the only things to show for the past 11 games. In those 11 game the Hawks are 6-4-1, which isn’t bad. But obviously a couple more power play goals in this stretch and the Hawks probably claim some points they needed to have and might even be in a playoff spot.

You can divide the power play’s season into three segments: From the opening of the season to December 17th, which covers both Quenneville’s short term and Colliton’s start. Then from December 18th to March 1st, when it was absolutely nuclear. And then the last 11 games which go from March 2nd until now, when it’s been cold, cold, cold.

I wanted to check on it metrically, as is my way. So I’m going to take you along with me:

1st Phase: CF/60 – 86.5  SF/60 – 47.5   SCF/60 – 43.1   HDCF/60 – 18.8   SH% – 8.5

2nd Phase (Nuclear): CF/60 – 104.2   SF/60 – 58.0   SCF/60 – 52.5  HDCF/60 – 16.4  SH% – 23.1

3rd Phase (I’m turning into Lovie Smith now): CF/60 – 99.9   SF/60 – 50.6   SCF/60 – 45.5  HDCF/60 – 13.9  SH% – 5.0

So a couple things to glean here. One is that a huge part of the power play’s success was luck. While there was a surge in attempts, shots, and chances in the middle phase where the Hawks couldn’t stop scoring, they also shot nearly three times as well as they did to start the season and almost five times as well as they are now. For a frame of reference, the median SH% on the power play this year is 13.5%, and the Lightning lead the league at 22% for the season. The Hawks were better than that for six weeks, which gives you some idea of the unsustainable nature of it.

Another funny quirk of this is that the Hawks were actually averaging less high-danger chances when they power play went supernova than they did in the first part of the season. What changed is that they doubled their shooting-percentage on just scoring-chances, to almost 30%. Now, when you have Patrick Kane at full bore and Top Cat on the other side, you should be shooting a higher percentage than most. And the Hawks did, just not at a rate anyone was going to keep up.

Still, in the last 11 games, the Hawks have seen a drop in attempts, shots, and chances. And that can’t be totally explained metrically.

One thing we’ve seen of late is that teams are completely aware of the Hawks drop-pass entry, and the Hawks haven’t shown a willingness to try anything else. Opponents are leaving one forward behind the initial puck-carrier, cutting off that drop pass. Because one major change the Hawks made that sparked the power play was actually having two players trailing the initial puck-carrier, when that’s cut off the Hawks are looking at a 3-on-3 at the opposing blue line. And they don’t seem willing to take that on, even though there should be plenty of room. It doesn’t help that the two forwards ahead of the play are just standing and waiting as they’re expecting that drop pass.

So what you’re getting is the initial puck-carrier, sometimes Gustafsson and sometimes Toews for the most part, pulling up somewhere between the red line and blue line, and literally stopping or curling toward the boards or both and waiting for that penalty killer behind them to “clear.” Now everyone’s stopped, and they’re still trying that pass except Kane or DeBrincat has four across the line to stare at with no one on his team moving forward. So entries have become a problem again.

In the zone, the movement has stopped. Some of that might be due to Kane’s overall fatigue, but that doesn’t explain it all. When the power play was humming, Kane was getting the puck while already moving and committing people. He’s standing still and Carmello’ing/Harden’ing (phrasing?) at the circle. Top Cat is waiting on the other side for passes that have become the first priority to be cut off by penalty kills. Toews isn’t bouncing between the goal line and the high slot as much, and when Kane’s doing his isolation offense on the right circle it doesn’t really matter if Toews is in the high slot because he’s basically facing the wrong way. His only option from there is basically to bump it back to Kane, unless he has time to turn to face the center of the ice. Which he rarely does.

It wouldn’t hurt to try and run things occasionally through DeBrincat on the other side, which makes Toews a threat for a one-timer from the high slot and Gustafsson from the blue line and a cross-seam pass to Kane as well. Kane’s not really the best at one-timing shots, but he can make a fist of it enough to have teams account for it. If it moves guys, then the Hawks can get their movement and creativity back.

Everything Else

Even with four days off, there’s hardly any time to pivot from the end of the greatest coaching career the Hawks have ever seen to the era of Jeremy Colliton, whatever it might be. Maybe you shouldn’t look to bury your news on Election Day, hmmm? Another discussion for another time.

The Hawks may still be in a state of shock, but the schedule kicks into gear again tomorrow night and it doesn’t let up after that. The Hawks won’t have more than two days off in a row until Christmas, and only two days off in a row twice in that span. It’s 24 games in 45 days, and at the end of it the Hawks will have established that they can in fact be in the playoffs or it will be over and thoroughly so.

So there isn’t a lot of time to implement whatever changes the Hawks and Colliton want (and we can only pray these are the same, though they have to be). So what can Colliton do?

Up the speed: The roster isn’t going to change, so this isn’t going to become a good defensive team anytime soon. The biggest change I think we’ll see with the Hawks is them getting up the ice as fast as possible. Help the defense by not playing it as much. The Quenneville Breakout (TM) will be consigned to the trash. I think you’ll see Hawks d-men putting the puck off the glass or chipping it over the opposing d-men or attempting stretch passes far more. And that’s with two Hawks forwards bursting out of the zone instead of one. One waiting along the half-boards to either squeeze it out along the boards or hit a moving center in the middle of the ice is something you won’t see a lot of. Get the puck into space, let your fast forwards skate onto it, and try and score on the rush. Get into the offensive zone before teams can get into shooting lanes.

Even if you don’t score, you can cause chaos off the ensuing rebounds and loose pucks that further prevent teams from collapsing into their slot and keeping everything to the outside. This will lessen the responsibility on the d-men who don’t have to worry about options and tough passes on the breakout and can just get pucks to space instead of sticks. It might not help them much actually defending, but the idea is that the puck will spend more time in dangerous spots on the other side of the ice.

Back pressure: The hope is that this new, faster style of attack will lead the Hawks to losing the puck less and less around the blue lines. This has been a huge problem, because over the past season and a month now you’re awfully familiar with teams getting to use the neutral zone as a launchpad with no Hawks forwards in the picture and 3-on-2s all day steaming into the Hawks’ zone like a Mongolian horde. Or they turn it over at their own line, with forwards caught heading into the neutral zone, and it looks like the last scene in “Inside Out” when the “Girl” alarm goes off in the boy’s head (this is also what happens in my head when confronted by a girl)e.

The Hawks defense can’t really step up beyond their blue line if there aren’t forwards supplying the back pressure to crash those puck-carriers into the rocks. This was a Q staple, and something the Hawks need to find a way back to. They can’t do that when they’re turning it over from the opposing circles and above. If they play faster into the offensive zone, get more space, and force teams to start their forays forward from deeper, they can. Again, this will relieve some pressure on a blue line that really isn’t up to it.

Load up the first PP unit, fuck the rest: This seems so simplistic. Your first power play unit is Patrick Kane, with three right-handed shots staring at him from across the ice. Whether that’s Seabrook or Jokiharju at the blue line, no one fucking cares. Top Cat at the other circle, because he also has the ability to send that pass back to Kane for the same results. Schmaltz in the middle of the box. Toews bouncing between the slot and behind the goal line. This gives Kane all sorts of options and forces the PK into making decisions and leaving something open. Leave them out there for 90 seconds at least each opportunity. You don’t have enough for two killer power play units anyway, so give the first one all the chance in the world.

Oh, and take that “Push ‘Em Back” entry and push it back into your ass. Thank you.

Put Schmaltz at center: Welp, already boned this.

Seriously, if the Hawks’ intention here is to go plaid all the time, then it’s hard to know how Artem Anisimov can fit into that. That said, the Saad-Kampf-Fortin line has a ton of speed and defensive know-how, and if the idea is to get them into space more and more that could be fun. So for the first few games, I guess it’s worth seeing.

Communication: As we said on the podcast, this seems to be the #1 thing the Hawks want to change. And it’s not surprising to hear that a host of young players were on edge because they didn’t know why they were in a certain spot in the lineup or out of it altogether. No longer will answers to the press of “We need more,” suffice. The Hawks clearly need to maximize Kahun, Schmaltz, Jokharju, Gustafsson (who’s on that young really), Forsling when he’s up, Kampf, and Sikura when he arrives (which I’m sure is shortly). Having them feel comfortable, appreciated, and with clear tasks only helps that.

If Colliton can do that and the Hawks still fall short, we’ll know exactly where the problems are (I mean we already do but you get it).

Everything Else

It’s not often we’ve sat here with the Hawks having a losing streak this long (although, full disclosure, I think a losing streak that includes two losses in the gimmicks that come after 60 minutes shouldn’t really count, but here we are. A different breeze and the Hawks merely would have lost three of five). When dealing with something unfamiliar there’s a tendency to overreact, if not outright panic. The Hawks do face some issues, so let’s get to them.

-The power play. Whatever problems the Hawks have, and really any team, you can paper over them if you’re cashing in on the power play. Especially as the Hawks generate the most opportunities in the league, which kind of lets you know they aren’t that bad at even-strength. In fact, they’re good. Your top three teams in the league on the power play are Tampa, Nashville, and Winnipeg, who just happen to be three of the top teams in the league right now. They’re solid outfits without the added bonus, but Pittsburgh, the Islanders, and the Leafs have been able to buttress their holes by scoring a bunch on the power play as well.

While Joel Quenneville doesn’t want to admit it, the biggest problem on the power play is that the Hawks can’t get into the zone consistently and with control. The Hawks, at least at the moment, aren’t a great forechecking team. If they were to dump the puck in, who do you trust to go get it back? Saad? Toews? Anisimov can’t get there in time. Panik maybe? Again, you can’t really say for sure with any of them.

So the Hawks want to carry it in all the time, but other teams know this. They’re standing up at their line, and also dragging one behind to counter this dumbass, drop-pass to Kane to let him do it all himself. That doesn’t work unless you’ve somehow backed at least a couple penalty killers off the line.

But like everything else on this team, it’s hard to know how to line that up. Do you put Toews and Saad on one unit? Let’s run with that. Have them with Schmaltz. Run it through Schmaltz on the left half-boards, mirroring what you’d do on the other unit with Kane. Have Forsling on the point and Anisimov playing, “Annette Frontpresence.” This gives Schmaltz three passing options from there–the point, cross-ice, and high slot–all of which can one-time a pass. If teams start to cheat there and smother, Forsling and Saad/Toews can exploit that space on the other side.

You’re other unit can have Kane running things as usual, with Seabrook, and Top Cat the threats at the point and cross-ice. This is what ADB does and really hasn’t been allowed to. He’s also nifty enough to run things himself if Kane is being smothered. It lacks a right-handed shot to occupy the high-slot, but Keith has played the rover before. It’s not ideal, but you can live with it.

Does that solve your entry problem? Not entirely. The “Kane Unit” doesn’t really have a QB, and I’m not yet convinced that Forsling is one yet on the other. But given how teams are just standing at their line, soft chips into the corner should be recoverable. And you only have to do it for a while before teams at least have to account for it.

And the Hawks just have to pick something and stick with it. This is what we do and we’re going to do it better than you can defend it. Changing your plan every single power play lets both your team and the other one you have no confidence and you have no answers.

The other option is to just team up Kane, Schmaltz, and Top Cat and let them do what they did in the preseason on the power play. Never stop moving, create angles where no one saw them, and just let Anisimov stand there with that dumb look on his face and bank it off him. I know sending three guys out there and saying, “Try shit,” isn’t a great tactical plan, but it probably works better than this.

-The waiving of Tanner Kero today probably signals that Vinnie Smalls is on his way up. He’s not going to solve everything. He’s probably not going to solve much at all. He makes the forwards faster, but speed isn’t the problem at forward. It’s a problem in defense. We’ll save the #FreeKempny discussion for another time.

However, Q’s slotting of Toews down the lineup seems to be something of an admission that he’s a different player than he was. I’ve been calling on the podcast to slot Schmaltz between Saad and Panik, Top Cat with Kane and Anisimov, and Toews between Hartman and whatever other goof you want. Make the other coach pick whether or not Toews gets to see third lines–which I’m fairly sure he will murder–or if they’re going to still treat him like ’13 Toews, freeing up your top two lines. I think he’s slowly getting to this.


Everything Else

Most of the year, we’ve tried to point out that the Hawks’ success this year is largely built on their goaltender and their power play. Yesterday, I went through the brilliance of their goaltender. Today I thought it might be good to look at the power play, but not just in context of the Hawks. Because there’s something a little weird happening this season with the teams with the best power plays.

Generally, power play success isn’t indicative of playoff success. Ask the San Jose Sharks. In fact, the last time a team led the league in power play percentage and won the Cup was the Penguins in 2009. It just doesn’t happen that often.

Everything Else

Time to clean up the rest of this preview, with a brief glance at the special teams and then try and guess how it’s all going to go.

On the power play, the Wild have for years been terrible. That changed in the first round, and you can mostly pin that on the presence of Matt Dumba. The Wild went 4-for-12 in the series against St. Louis, which isn’t a lot of chances in a six-game series but certainly is enough power play goals. Dumba had one, and set up one or two more with the cannon he has from the point. It gives them a second point-man with a big shot, with the other being Jason Pominville, who they don’t always use on the point. With Neiderreiter, Vanek, Parise, and Koivu all bodies that can make plays around the net, and the problems the Hawks had with the Predators down low on the power play, this could become an issue.

Everything Else

Somehow the name Kevin Dineen escaped our attention when we were speculating who would replace Jamie Kompon and whatever it was he actually did here. It probably shouldn’t have. After all, Dineen was a Whaler when Q was, and a very decent one at that. What Dineen didn’t have was previous coaching experience with Quenneville, so maybe that’s why we missed him.

Dineen has various head coaching experience in a lot of places. He was an AHL coach for six years in Portland, for both the Anaheim and Buffalo organizations. His record there was very impressive, as the Pirates amasses 39+ wins five out of six seasons.

He then went to Florida, to take over the Panthers in their Garage Sale Binge phase, where Dineen took all of their 11 signings and acquisitions in the summer of 2011 and got the Panthers to a Southeast Division title, even if that division was terrible. It took until overtime in a Game 7 for the Devils to eliminate them. But Dineen only got a season and a month after that, and was axed, even though the team was basically garbage.