Blackhawks want to push structure into offensive zone in Game 2 vs. Golden Knights
Reluctant to return to their run-and-gun ways from the Oilers series but needing to generate more offense, the Hawks want to apply their Game 1 style differently in Game 2.
Captain Jonathan Toews and coach Jeremy Colliton seemed to disagree Wednesday about how the Blackhawks can generate more offense.
Toews talked about shooting more often. Colliton emphasized holding on to the puck in the offensive zone, perhaps even shooting less and wearing down the Golden Knights’ defenders instead.
But they were on the same page on one thing: The Hawks’ efforts to increase their production will take place within the same structured style they debuted in Game 1.
A return to the risk-taking, run-and-gun aggression from the Oilers series isn’t on tap.
That’s completely in line with the team’s postgame comments Tuesday night, when Colliton argued — despite the Hawks’ 4-1 loss — that they’ll need to “grind” out a series win by staying patient through uneventful shifts and neutralizing the Knights’ surplus of skill.
Still, as Toews clarified Wednesday, the Hawks weren’t satisfied with their execution of that system, particularly in the offensive zone. The Hawks had only 20 shots on goal, tied for their fewest this season.
Here’s Toews’ strategy for fixing that in Game 2 on Thursday:
“There were still some situations [Tuesday] where we had Grade-A chances, and we didn’t shoot the puck. We’ve got to take those shots; we can’t hesitate.
“They’re throwing pucks from everywhere on [Corey Crawford] and trying to get ugly goals. Against a team like Vegas, it doesn’t have to be pretty. We need to test [Robin] Lehner a little bit more, throw it at his feet, get in there and try to find some of those ugly goals.”
And here’s Colliton’s idea:
“We have to protect the puck in the offensive zone a little more, establish a little bit more zone time, force them to defend for longer periods. [The Golden Knights are] a big team. They’re good at getting pucks back; they want to overload in the D-zone. If you can hold it longer, sometimes you can create something.”
The Hawks, at various times, could’ve benefitted from one strategy or the other in Game 1.
Kirby Dach, racing in on a two-on-one rush in the opening minutes, saw all indicators telling him to shoot. The Knights’ defenseman went down early to block the pass, and Lehner gave Dach space to aim high. But Dach — whose biggest flaw as a rookie has been his reluctance to shoot — instead tried to circle the net, and the chance fizzled. He should’ve heeded Toews’ advice.
On other occasions, the Hawks won offensive-zone faceoffs — they were 10-for-17 (after struggling at the dot against the Oilers) — but were too eager to release point shots that were blocked and knocked out of the zone. They should’ve heeded Colliton’s advice.
Ideally, the Hawks can do both: have more possession and shoot more often. That might be what it takes to upend a team as polished as the Knights.
Some better individual performances could help, too. Patrick Kane’s inability to get his shots on net in the playoffs — only one of his four attempts Tuesday was on net, although he hit the post on another — is a problem. Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome have been invisible of late.
DeBrincat, with zero goals in five games, said Wednesday that he feels his production will come if he keeps doing the right things. And then he assessed the offensive improvement the Hawks need in a way that actually combined the proposals of Toews and Colliton.
‘‘We’re going to need to play a little more in the O-zone and a little bit less in the D-zone,” DeBrincat said. “If we can get that O-zone cycle going and get more pucks at the net, we’ll have a good chance.”