Blackhawks are built to thrive in shootouts — and they know it
After beating the Islanders on Sunday, the Hawks are perfect in three shootouts this season and 27-15 in them dating to 2014-15.
It was clearly a dumb strategy all along.
The Islanders employed the most patient — as in boring — approach to the three-on-three overtime seen in years Sunday against the Blackhawks, holding on to the puck for the majority of the five-minute period but refusing to take any risks to try to convert that possession into scoring chances.
They were, essentially, playing for a shootout. And the Hawks — fully aware of their track record as one of the NHL’s best shootout teams — were happy to play along.
“[Mathew] Barzal likes to hold on to the puck, I guess,” Dylan Strome said. “He was trying to get his Corsi up or something like that. He just kept circling back. Some of the guys were saying it was a pretty uneventful overtime, but sometimes it’s like that.
“We’ve got such good guys in the shootout that I think if we can take it to shootouts, more times than not, we’ll win.”
After a combined four shots in overtime — three by the Hawks — Patrick Kane scored in the shootout, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all three Isles shooters to earn a rather predictable 3-2 victory.
The Hawks are 27-15 in shootouts since the start of the 2014-15 season, the second-best winning percentage in the NHL during that span. (The Avalanche rank first at 21-11; the Islanders are 29-31.) The Hawks are 3-0 this season and have won five in a row dating to last season.
In a tiebreaker designed to be largely a crapshoot, the Hawks have broken the system — it’s only a crapshoot for almost everyone else. Nearly two-thirds of the time, they win.
That’s mainly because of Kane and Jonathan Toews. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, they’ve been ruthless in shootouts. Kane is 19-for-40 (47.5%), and Toews is 17-for-36 (47.2%).
The league average is around 33%, by comparison, and among players with 20 or more attempts in that span, Kane and Toews rank in the top 10. No other team has anything close to that kind of one-two punch of shootout shooters. And they’re only getting better, too: Since 2018-19, Kane is 10-for-19, and Toews is 9-for-15.
On the goalie side of things, the Hawks were briefly disadvantaged by Robin Lehner — whose inexplicable shootout ineptitude was a hot talking point in the fall of 2019 — but have generally enjoyed solid play from Corey Crawford and Fleury.
Fleury is 61-35 in shootouts in his career and has a .738 shootout save percentage, which ranks seventh all time (among the 73 goalies who have been in 20 or more shootouts). Crawford finished his career 34-24 with a .716 save percentage.
This season, Kane is 2-for-3, Toews is 1-for-3, Alex DeBrincat is 1-for-1 and Fleury has stopped all eight opponent attempts.
So how are they so good? The Hawks do occasionally practice shootouts as a team, relay-style. But the daily post-practice games of two-puck — in which Kane and Fleury are the most competitive — likely help even more.
And does it affect their overtime strategy? Strome said Sunday it doesn’t, at least not until the last 20 or 30 seconds, when he admitted they might decide not to take a risk.
The Hawks have been more patient in overtimes this season, however, sitting back and defending until they sense a moment to spring a two-on-one counterattack.
Their overtime “pace” — measured by shots by them and their opponents — is the sixth-slowest in the NHL at 1.55 attempts per minute.
“It’s funny the way three-on-three has evolved,” Kane said recently. “It was kind of chaos when they first introduced it.
‘‘And then it was all about puck possession and holding on to it and trying to get the other team tired and change, get fresh guys out there. Now we’re fine playing that transition game.”