Excessively long shifts contributing to Hawks’ early-season struggles
Entering action Friday, the Hawks were averaging the fourth-longest shifts in the NHL — and they weren’t in good company.
Defenseman Olli Maatta was 46 seconds into a shift Thursday when he attempted to dump the puck in from the offensive blue line.
Thirty-one seconds later — a whopping 1:17 after he and partner Brent Seabrook came on the ice — Maatta was skating ruefully behind his own net after losing a box-out battle to Patrick Marleau and conceding a tying goal.
The ridiculously long shift with a squarely negative outcome has been a common problem for the Hawks through their first two games of the 2019-20 season (both losses, for the record). They aren’t getting off the ice fast enough.
‘‘Well, it’s not a winning formula,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said after practice Friday. ‘‘It’s a continuation of things we know we’ve got to fix. [It was] last year, too.’’
The Hawks are averaging 49.5 seconds per shift so far this season, up from 47.3 seconds last season and well above the league median of 46.8.
That 49.5-second figure is the fourth-highest in the league — and the Hawks aren’t in good company. The three teams with even longer shifts (the Golden Knights, Devils and Wild) have a combined 2-9 record.
The problem likely stems from two underlying reasons. The first is players being insufficiently aware of how long they’ve been on the ice. The second is players not creating enough opportunities — by dumping the puck in, for example — to conduct line changes in a timely way.
‘‘It’s hard to defend when you’ve been out there for that long, so I think we need everyone to buy in to play 40 seconds instead of 50, leave the next line in a better spot — and they’ll do the same for you — and we can create positive shifts out of that,’’ Colliton said.
Instances of long shifts backfiring on the Hawks abounded in their loss Thursday to the Sharks.
Maatta’s aforementioned dump-in was broken up by the Sharks’ Logan Couture, and Maatta never found another chance to hit the pine.
Duncan Keith and Erik Gustafsson, meanwhile, took an absurd 1:41 shift shortly before Ryan Carpenter’s penalty and the Sharks’ opening goal.
Gustafsson has been a prime perpetrator of lengthy shifts in general: His 60-second average through two games leads the Hawks and ranks second in the NHL to the Wild’s Matt Dumba. Gustafsson admitted Friday it’s a bad habit the coaching staff has made clear must be fixed.
‘‘We were talking about that, too; we have to keep it shorter,’’ Gustafsson said. ‘‘I think I have to keep it shorter, as well. Even if I want to be out there for as long as I can, I can’t be out there for more than 45 or 50 seconds. It’s just too long. I have to be better at that. It’s on me.’’
The Hawks’ well-documented propensity for turnovers is making it difficult to tighten the shifts, though. Without reliable puck possession, it’s often too dangerous to go to the bench — especially with the long change in the second period, a frame during which the Hawks particularly have struggled.
In other words, the Hawks’ many problems through the first week of the season are snowballing into each other.
‘‘It’s just a whole team thing,’’ Gustafsson said. ‘‘It’s just tough when we get tired out there and we just want to get the puck out. That time is when small mistakes happen.’’