Blackhawks tweak power play entry patterns, in-zone setup after poor stretch

The Hawks are just 1-for-8 on the PP their last four games, and they rank last in the NHL in PP scoring chances per minute. They hope some changes Tuesday, including flipping Max Domi and Patrick Kane, spark a resurgence.

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Max Domi shoots the puck.

Max Domi flipped sides with Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks’ power-play setup Tuesday.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

On the surface, the Blackhawks’ power play seems effective. Entering Tuesday, it ranked 12th in the NHL with a 24.3% conversion rate.

But digging into the numbers reveals a much uglier picture. The Hawks’ power play ranked 32nd (as in last) in shot attempts per minute. And 32nd in scoring chances per minute. And 32nd in expected goals per minute.

So while the tangible results have been more than acceptable, the Hawks have been lucky to achieve them. Regression into the league basement feels somewhat inevitable.

Or maybe not. The Hawks spent the majority of a lengthy practice Tuesday working on special teams, learning lessons from Saturday’s debacle against the Jets. And they made a few tweaks that could be impactful.

“Our in-zone [play] has been good,” coach Luke Richardson said. “We’re moving the puck around well. It’s just [about] getting in the zone. It hasn’t been clean, and we haven’t had a chance to work on it with all the games. . . . We want to give different options [so] we don’t just do the same thing all the time.”

One notable change involved Max Domi and Patrick Kane flipping sides within the in-zone set-up, with Kane now manning the left side and Domi the right. Caleb Jones continued running the point, Jonathan Toews operated in the bumper role (roving the slot) and Taylor Raddysh held the net-front position.

Kane historically has spent most of his power-play ice time on the right side. He was stellar there last year as a left-handed passer feeding Alex DeBrincat — a right-handed shot on the left side — for one-timers.

Right now, though, the Hawks’ top unit (“PP1”) is loaded up with left-handed shots. Having Kane on the left side creates three passing lanes — cross-ice to Domi, into the slot to Toews or up top to Jones — that all lead to one-timers.

“It’s pretty obvious when you look at our unit and see all the lefties,” Jones said. “When you have one of the best passers of all time, you probably want him over there where he has one-timers everywhere he’s looking.”

While entering the zone, Kane and Domi can flip-flop sides as they wish, and often they “figure it out between the two of us as we go,” Domi said. But Kane entering down the left wing could make that step easier, too, since he’ll be able to protect the puck better on his forehand.

For Jones, moving up from “PP2” to “PP1” after Seth Jones’ injury has made him adjust his approach. The “PP2,” which Alec Regula quarterbacked Tuesday, focuses on being direct and on getting shots on goal because the unit usually hits the ice during the waning seconds of penalties. On “PP1,” however, there’s much more time to work the puck around and patiently set up a grade-A chance. Jones still is “trying to find the right time when to shoot and when to pass it.”

The Hawks also would like to draw more penalties in general. They’ve had 37 power plays and 49 penalty kills. That minus-12 differential ranked 31st in the league entering Tuesday. Over the last four games, they’ve had only eight power plays — and scored just one power-play goal while conceding one short-handed goal.

So there’s plenty on which to improve. But the Hawks believe Tuesday will help significantly with that.

“It’s still early in the year, and we’re still trying to iron things out with some new personnel and guys that aren’t used to playing together,” Domi said. “We’re just bouncing [ideas] off each other, and that’s how you get results.

“We’re pretty confident what we have going right now is going to work.”

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