DENVER — For the past four seasons, the Blackhawks have been at a loss to explain why their power play, so laden with talented finishers, was so underwhelming — at best inconsistent, at worst flat-out awful. It never made any sense.
Well, this season, the Hawks’ power play has been outstanding. Consistently so, even. And they still can’t quite explain why.
“I don’t know,” Jonathan Toews said before the Hawks squandered a two-goal lead but pulled out a 4-3 victory Thursday night over the Colorado Avalanche on Jonathan Toews’ fourth overtime goal of the season, snapping nemesis Semyon Varlamov’s eight-game win streak against the Hawks. “I guess, in a way, a lot of it has to do with Kaner.”
Toews’ goal came on an overtime power play, but indeed, Patrick Kane and his linemates have done most of the heavy lifting on the power play, as they have all season overall. Joel Quenneville has kept his dynamic second line intact on the power play, and that top power-play unit — with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the points — has scored 22 of the Hawks’ 28 power-play goals, including Kane’s in the second period Thursday night. Kane has a whopping 12 of them, tied for the league lead with Carolina’s Justin Faulk. Artem Anisimov has three, Seabrook has three, Keith has three, and Artemi Panarin has one.
But while the second unit, anchored by Toews, Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa, who now have six goals between them, hasn’t been quite as productive, it’s still been effective at generating scoring chances and momentum. That seems to be what separates the current Hawks’ power play from recent ones — they have two viable units, with two effective net-front presences, thanks to the addition of Anisimov.
“It’s been very inconsistent over the years,” Kane said of the power play. “This year, I know we’re having a pretty good season. I think the biggest thing is we’ve got two good units. If one power play’s hot. they’ll start. And the other one wants to get out there and get a chance to cash in. That’s probably the biggest thing, a lot of depth. Good net front guys, too.”
The proof is in the stats. The Hawks entered Thursday’s action having scored on 23.3 percent of their power plays, the fourth-best rate in the league. In the past four seasons, the Hawks have been 20th, 10th, 19th, and 26th in the league. The last time the Hawks had a reliable power play was in 2010-11, when they were fourth at 23.1 percent.
The power-play success has helped mask many of the Hawks offensive issues during the first half of the season, particularly the lack of depth scoring beyond the Kane line.
“If you’re struggling to score goals and you have that power play to rely on, it can come up huge and maybe get guys feeling it a bit more, too,” Kane said.
One of the knocks on the Hawks’ power play in recent years has been its lack of aggressiveness. As they often do 5-on-5, the Hawks tended to look for the highlight-reel play rather than simply fire away. With Seabrook on the top unit in Patrick Sharp’s old role, the Hawks have been firing away more often.
“Everyone’s been playing well,” Toews said. “We’ve been doing a really good job of making plays off broken plays, too. It’s not always going to be perfect.”