Dominik Kubalik should’ve been on the Blackhawks’ top power-play unit long ago
The Hawks’ leading goal-scorer has revived the Hawks’ power play, and coach Jeremy Colliton admitted Thursday he should’ve made the change sooner.
TAMPA, Fla. — Coach Jeremy Colliton finally admitted something Thursday that Blackhawks fans have longed to hear for weeks:
He should have put wing Dominik Kubalik on the top power-play unit a long time before he did.
‘‘Yeah, and I wish we would have put [Patrick Kane] on the other side earlier,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We tried it off and on throughout since I’ve been here, and we just haven’t been able to get it to click with enough success for everyone to embrace it. But we’ve been able to here, and it’s a nice weapon for us.’’
Colliton is referring to displacing Kane from his usual right-side faceoff-circle spot, moving Kubalik — now the Hawks’ leading goal-scorer with 29 goals to Kane’s 28 — into that spot and moving Kane to the equivalent left-side role.
After months of forced cross-ice passes from Kane to left-side staple Alex DeBrincat — very few of which connected — and overall malaise on the power play, causing the unit to slip briefly to last in the NHL, the Kubalik-led shuffle has brought back some life.
With Kubalik on the right, Kane on the left, DeBrincat screening the goalie, Duncan Keith up top and Jonathan Toews roaming around, the Hawks have gone 6-for-19 on power-play opportunities in their last four games after going 0-for-17 in their six games before that.
The Hawks have scored a power-play goal in four consecutive games for only the second time this season.
‘‘Since we got together, the first couple of power plays were good but just didn’t go in, so we were just trying to stay with it, just keep shooting,’’ Kubalik said Thursday. ‘‘I’m really happy that the power play’s working right now.’’
Kubalik, with his blistering one-timer and ability to get to the net, has been a big part of that recent uptick. He now leads the Hawks in shots on goal per minute of power-play time and trails only Kane and DeBrincat in scoring chances per minute.
Just having him on the ice seems to improve the unit overall. It forces the Hawks to diversify their strategies and move the puck more, rather than Kane holding it for five or 10 seconds at a time while scanning the ice for a brilliant play. That, in turn, forces the opposing penalty kill to spread out, move around and divide their attention.
Since Kubalik was promoted Feb. 11, the Hawks’ top power-play unit has averaged 2.10 shot attempts, 1.18 shots on goal and 1.05 scoring chances per minute — enormous increases over the team’s season averages of 1.56, 0.86 and 0.85 in those categories, respectively. If the Hawks’ post-Kubalik-promotion averages were their season averages, they would lead the league in all three areas.
So why, exactly, was Kubalik not given a tryout for the top power-play unit earlier? Well, this was Colliton’s logic Jan. 10 for keeping him off it:
‘‘[Kubalik’s] more of a one-time threat,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘I don’t think he’s really a half-wall player; that’s typically where Kaner plays. There’s one reason for you.’’
He offered a second reason, too.
‘‘For Kaner [to make passes], he probably needs righties to shoot. Kuby’s a lefty. That doesn’t meant there aren’t other ways to build a power play, but for now that’s what we’re doing.’’
Clearly, neither handedness nor half-wall unfamiliarity has inhibited Kubalik’s adjustment in recent weeks.
At this point, however, it’s largely for naught because the Hawks’ playoffs hopes appear to be long gone. That reality makes Kubalik’s absence from the top power-play unit for the first four months of the season all the more frustrating.
At least Colliton finally has acknowledged his regret.