Special teams power Blackhawks to victory over Detroit

SHARE Special teams power Blackhawks to victory over Detroit

Jonathan Toews shoots ahead of Detroit’s Brendan Smith during the first period Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo)

It’s not as if the Blackhawks need a functioning power play to win the Stanley Cup. They won with the 20th-ranked unit in the league last season. And they won with the 19th-ranked unit in the league in 2013.

But for the first time in some time, the Hawks’ power play is very good. Consistent, too. And right now, red hot. And it’s sure making life easier.

The Hawks got two power-play goals — moving them to No. 1 in the league with the man advantage — to knock off the Detroit Red Wings for the second time in less than a week on Sunday, 4-1. A penalty-killing unit that fended off three straight Detroit power plays in the second and third periods — thanks in part to another stellar, 33-save effort from Corey Crawford — made it a special kind of victory. An important one, too, because it allowed the Hawks to remain tied for first place with the Dallas Stars.

“When those are doing well, we have a good chance of winning the game,” Crawford said.

Duncan Keith and Artem Anisimov both scored on the power play, and the Hawks are now a scorching 14-of-28 in their last nine games. Jonathan Toews couldn’t remember the power play ever being hotter than this, certainly not in recent seasons.

“It comes with confidence,” Toews said. “I think when you have a stretch where pucks are going in, it just adds to the rest of your power play — what you do with the puck, your breakouts, your entries, retrieving pucks off of initial shots that maybe don’t go in. It just trickles down when you’re scoring goals and you’re getting bounces. The more you have the puck, the more it creates those chances. It just snowballs, and it’s obviously going the right way for us.”

A big key has been the net-front presence of players such as Anisimov, Andrew Shaw and now Andrew Ladd. Anisimov, in particular, has been a catalyst all season for the Hawks’ power surge, facilitating everything for his flashier linemates, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin.

“His skill is underrated, given the fact that mostly all eyes are on [Kane and Panarin] when they’re out there, 5-on-5 or on the power play,” Toews said. “But he’s the one retrieving pucks, winning draws, and just getting the puck to those guys with time and space.”

The Hawks raced out to a 2-0 lead early, as Kane set a new career high in points (89) by scoring just 21 seconds into the game. Six minutes later, the Hawks led 2-0 on Keith’s power-play goal, and Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek’s night already was done. But Gustav Nyquist righted the Detroit ship by taking advantage of a stickless Trevor van Riemsdyk and roofing a shot past Crawford just two minutes later. And Detroit dominated play from there, taking 12 of the first 13 shots of the second period.

But the Hawks’ PK fended off the Wings, and the power play put the game away, as Anisimov redirected a Panarin shot past Jimmy Howard to make it 3-1 at 11:15 of the third. Just 68 seconds later, Andrew Desjardins’ shot ticked in off of Toews to make it 4-1.

Despite their gaudy record, the Hawks still have plenty of areas on which to improve. The penalty kill has been spotty all season, but should benefit from the pending returns of Marian Hossa (likely Wednesday in St. Louis) and Marcus Kruger (before the end of the regular season). They’re still working in new players and figuring out line combinations. But as long as the power play keeps clicking — as it has all season in a welcome change of pace — it can go a long way toward making a long run.

“It certainly helps our offense, helps the skill guys,” Joel Quenneville said. “They get confidence and they want the puck, and it translates to having patience and doing good things when you’re 5-on-5, as well. It’s been really consistent this year. It’s nice to have two units where you can start either one. It’s been very effective.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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