VANCOUVER, British Columbia — For 67 seconds on Tuesday night, the five Blackhawks stars on the ice stood around the offensive zone, unthreatened by the three Winnipeg Jets hoping to somehow survive the two-man disadvantage they faced.
Brent Seabrook passed it to Duncan Keith, who passed it back to Seabrook, who passed it down low to Patrick Kane, who kept waiting for an opportunity to pass it across the goalmouth to Artemi Panarin while Jonathan Toews set a pick.
Time and again, this play worked last season. Time and again this season, it hasn’t.
“That’s a tough play to defend if you do it right,” Keith said. “But I think we can get hung up on it. There are a lot of different plays that you can run. We need to move it around quick, get some movement, get some shots, get a guy in front of the net, and try to score that way.”
The Hawks entered Saturday night’s game in Vancouver 0-for-4 on the season on 5-on-3 power plays. Two of them were too brief to warrant much concern, but the last two were troubling. Against Winnipeg, they had 67 seconds, with one big Seabrook blast the only real chance the Hawks had. And against St. Louis on Nov. 9, the Hawks squandered 96 seconds of 5-on-3 time as they kept trying to force the Kane-to-Panarin play. In fact, the Blues had as good a scoring chance as the Hawks did during that one.
It even goes back to last spring, when the Hawks wasted a 5-on-3 in a 1-0 loss to the Blues in Game 1 of the playoffs.
“Obviously something’s not working, because we’re not scoring,” Keith said.
Kane acknowledged the Hawks have been trying too hard to force the puck to Panarin near the bottom of the left faceoff circle. It’s easy to understand why — the Hawks were 8-of-15 on 5-on-3 power plays last year, rarely failing to cash in when they had any significant time with the two-man advantage. And that play was their bread and butter.
But the last time the Kane-to-Panarin play worked was March 2 against Detroit, just 25 seconds into a lengthy 5-on-3. Kane said teams are using two penalty-killers down low and one up top to disrupt the play this season. Last season, opponents typically used two killers up high and just one down low that Toews could draw out of the way of Kane’s pass.
“Obviously, teams probably scout,” Kane said. “If they do that, they probably know what’s expected on the 5-on-3. If that’s the case, so be it. We have some good shooters back there, guys like Duncs and Seabs. They’ll just have to be confident in that shot and shoot the puck. Usually when you shoot the puck on a 5-on-3, it’s mayhem after that. Pucks bounce around and you can bang in some rebounds. We were a little too stationary [in Winnipeg].”
Set plays can be useful in such situations, but the element of surprise is key. If the Hawks start scoring on 5-on-3s in another fashion — blasts from the point, tip-ins, rebounds — then the Kane-to-Panarin play likely will start opening up again down the road. A little improvisation could go a long way.
“There’s no doubt that sometimes you have your go-to plays, and you try to make some of those plays, but if they don’t work, you try to at least make the other team think about what you’re about to do, and then something else opens up,” Toews said. “We haven’t really shown one major threat, where we can try and make the other team worry about that. We need to focus on being ready to take advantage of those opportunities. You’re not going to score every time, but if you have a couple you have to try to find a way to get one in. Because it’s pretty rare, and obviously they could be game-changers for you.”