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Blackhawks hoping to finally progress past ‘one-and-done’ offense

Only 51.9% of the Hawks’ even-strength shots have made it on goal, the lowest rate in the NHL. But they showed improvement Saturday.

The Blackhawks hope they’ll be able to generate more second chances by getting more shots on goal.
AP Photos

The Blackhawks have attempted 1,139 shots at even strength so far this season.

Only 591 of those shot attempts have made it on goal, either going in the net or forcing a save. And that on-goal percentage — 51.9% — is the lowest in the NHL.

Meanwhile, on several occasions this season, the Hawks have used the phrase “one and done” to describe their offensive struggles. Alex DeBrincat did so after practice Monday; interim coach Derek King did so after practice Tuesday.

The problem the Hawks’ on-goal percentage suggests and the problem to which “one and done” refers are arguably the same thing. At the least, they’re strongly connected.

Shots on goal ideally go in, but even if they don’t, they typically create rebounds or second opportunities, force defenders to make split-second decisions or create offensive-zone faceoffs. Blocked and missed shots more frequently ricochet out of the zone or stay in but allow the defending team to gain possession and exit the zone.

“A lot of this year, we’ve pretty much been ‘one and done’ in their zone,” DeBrincat said. “We get a chance, and then we have to play [in the] ‘D’ zone again.”

“We’ve got to put pucks on the net, which causes chaos, and then you can make all those cute plays,” King said.

King attributed the Hawks’ difficulty getting shots on goal to players missing the net too much, but the data indicates that’s not the true culprit. The Hawks actually have the ninth-lowest missed-shot rate at even strength (19.3%) and second-lowest missed-shot rate on the power play (15.9%).

Instead, the Hawks keep getting blocked. Whether it’s because they’re taking shots when tightly covered, being too predictable with puck movement or not keeping shooting lanes free of defensemen, their blocked-shot percentage is the highest in the league at even strength (28.8%) and sixth-highest on the power play (25.1%).

But there are a couple of reasons to believe the Hawks can improve in that regard.

First, their practice days Monday and Tuesday afforded them much-needed time to “work on some offensive stuff — [having] some net-front presence, getting shots through, supporting each other, changing sides, [passing] low to high, all those little things,” King said.

The lines from practice — with Dylan Strome on the first line and Brett Connolly on the second — also potentially indicate a more offense-oriented game plan Wednesday against the Capitals.

Second, the Hawks already showed signs of progress in their most recent game, a 5-4 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday.

They not only scored four even-strength goals, tied for their most this season, but also had 30 even-strength shots on goal, their second-most this season. And they did so with only 39 even-strength shot attempts, equating to a 76.9% on-goal percentage.

“Last game, we were holding it down there pretty [well], and that helps everyone out,” DeBrincat said. “It’s a lot easier to create chances, and their ‘D’ get tired, and you get to have that extra chance. If we do that more, we’re going to be able to win a lot more of these games and stay with some of those top teams.”

NOTES: A week removed from his brutal concussion, Jujhar Khaira has been able to hang out around the locker room the last two days. “The guys were excited to see him, [to see] he’s up and moving around pretty good,” coach Derek King said, adding it’s still going to “take some time” for Khaira to fully recover.

Henrik Borgstrom remains out with a non-COVID illness, and Kurtis Gabriel hasn’t practiced the last two days because of pending immigration paperwork. In Rockford, top prospect Lukas Reichel was removed from concussion protocol Tuesday.