Blackhawks’ power play, rather than penalty kill, neutralizes impact of Oilers’ special teams
The Oilers’ best-in-40-years power play did its thing Saturday. But the Blackhawks’ power play kept pace.
The Blackhawks talked for weeks about neutralizing the impact of the Oilers’ historically dominant power play, the most efficient unit the NHL has seen in 41 years.
On Saturday, they did exactly that.
But it wasn’t their penalty kill, which tied for eighth in the league in the regular season, that accomplished their job. In fact, despite all the talk, Edmonton superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl sliced through them effortlessly.
Instead, it was the Hawks’ own power play, which ranked 28th during the regular season, which kept pace and canceled out the Oilers’ presumed special-teams advantage.
In the end, the Oilers went 3-for-4 on the power play, the Hawks went 3-for-6 on the power play, the Hawks out-scored the Oilers 3-1 at even strength and the Hawks took Game 1 by a 6-4 score.
“We tried to work on [the power play] in practice for sure, because the regular season wasn’t very good,” Dominik Kubalik said. “We got a couple goals so it got the confidence going, which is always nice. We just tried to make it real simple, get the pucks to the net, get those pucks back after rebounds, and it worked pretty well.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton made a notable tactical switch to the power play during this summer’s training camp.
The Hawks left off in March with Patrick Kane manning the right side, Jonathan Toews manning the left side, Duncan Keith playing at the point, Kubalik playing down low, and Alex DeBrincat serving as the “bumper,” roaming the center of the diamond created by the other four.
But in camp —and on Saturday — the Hawks moved Kubalik to the “bumper” role and put Kirby Dach in the down-low role, demoting DeBrincat to the second unit.
“[Kubalik] is a shooter, and we want to find a way to release him in the middle of the ice,” coach Jeremy Colliton said, explaining the change. “We have two guys in Toews and Kane who are really comfortable on the puck on either flank, and [Kubalik in the center] allows us to be a bit more unpredictable in terms of where are attacks are coming from.”
That shuffle paid enormous dividends in their first matchup against the Oilers’ penalty kill, which ranked second in the NHL during the regular season.
For the first of the three ‘PP’ goals, Kane and Dach drew three Oilers players into the right corner, Kubalik found space just below them and fed a wide-open Toews cruising down the left side.
The second, a Kubalik one-timer off a Toews faceoff win and Keith pass, didn’t require use of the formation. But for the third,Dach gathered a rebound and recycled it eventually to Keith on the blue line, and Kubalik dropped next to Dach —into goalie Mikko Koskinen’s sight line — and tipped in Keith’s shot.
“Our guys had a shooting mentality and we recovered a lot of pucks,” Colliton said. “We were able to get those extended zone times, where we’re able to get multiple chances, and we broke through.”
The breakthroughs weren’t just lucky finishes, either. The Hawks consistently generated great chances on their power plays, including plenty they didn’t convert.
During the regular season, the Hawks averaged 1.5 shot attempts (22nd in the league) and 0.8 scoring chances (17th) per minute of 5-on-4 time. On Saturday, they averaged 3.1 shot attempts and 1.6 scoring chances per minute.
“Hopefully we can continue that,” Colliton said. “Certainly in the playoffs, there’s adjustments made on both sides. They’ll make some, and we’ll make some, and we’ve got to find a way to do it again.”