During the first two periods of the loss to the Sharks on Tuesday, the Blackhawks dumped the puck into their offensive zone 31 times.
They gained possession on just seven of those dump-and-chase attempts.
Not coincidentally, those two periods were about as hapless and hopeless as an NHL team can play, especially a team with as many talented, proven forwards as the Hawks have.
“I don’t think we were doing anything of that really well,” Jonathan Toews said. “Our rush game was pretty much non-existent. If we chipped the puck in, it was always to the goaltender, and they just seemed to get the puck and get above our forwards and off they go.”
“We’re backchecking, and it ends up in our zone, and we can’t get it out. It’s pretty straightforward.”
The shot production was abysmal: By the second intermission, the Hawks had mustered just 17 shot attempts and eight on goal.
In the third period, the Sharks dialed back their neutral zone press to protect their lead, and the Hawks found more urgency and generated more chances. But that “score effects” dynamic occurs pretty universally, even for teams such as the Senators. And the Hawks have too much invested to accept playing like the Senators, even if they are only two points ahead of them.
Offensive zone entry attempts are typically classified into two categories: dump-ins and carry-ins, the latter type also including passes across the blue line. Carry-ins have a higher success rate leaguewide.
Last season, the Hawks were at the forefront of a movement toward transition offense, leading the NHL in percentage of entry attempts that were carry-ins. But this season, with Jeremy Colliton’s emphasizing a conservative, defense-first system, the Hawks have shifted more toward dump-ins because they limit opponent counterattacks.
But there’s one problem: They don’t work very well. They especially don’t work well against the Sharks.
Through the first two periods, the Hawks attempted the 31 dump-ins with a 23 percent success rate. They had a 70 percent success rate on carry-ins but attempted only 10.
The Sharks, meanwhile, operated with comparable success rates on their methods of entry — 84 percent on carry-ins, 28 percent on dump-ins — but attempted 25 carry-ins and only 18 dump-ins.
Naturally, the Sharks dominated the game.
Colliton noted after the game that the Hawks weren’t crossing their defensive blue line cleanly, either, making it difficult to pursue the dump-ins at the other end of the rink. Many of the Hawks’ dump-ins also were straight ahead instead of cross-corner or rimmed around the boards, a small modification that gives the weak-side winger a head start on his forecheck.
“Getting back to the forecheck, I thought we were late a lot early on, so they were making a lot of plays because we were kind of halfway,” Colliton said.
The reality remains that if the Hawks want to improve their 29th-ranked offense, they simply must begin carrying or passing the puck into the zone more often. Their conservatism clearly isn’t working, with only four wins in 14 games.
“We could hang on to the puck and, if we are going to dump it in, make some better decisions on where we’re putting it,” Patrick Kane said. “Not just giving it to their goalie or giving it to them where they have easy chances to break out. There’s a lot of different things we can do.”