Blackhawks trying to ‘simplify’ overall game instead of searching for small tweaks

So many things have gone wrong during the Hawks’ 3-16-4 stretch that it would be impossible to fix each problem individually. Coach Luke Richardson has alternatively emphasized one overarching message: Simplification.

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The Blackhawks want to make simpler, smarter passes and shots instead of trying to be too creative.

David Berding/Getty Images

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Every member of the Blackhawks has a slightly different analysis of what’s going wrong and a slightly different idea for how to fix it.

None of them is wrong. In reality, a hundred things are going wrong and a hundred things could be fixed. Going 3-16-4 over a 23-game span is the result of a lot of breakdowns. Trying to fix them all would be futile. Trying to fix just one would be pointless.

And so, coach Luke Richardson has emphasized one message: simplification. The Hawks focused on that starting in practice Wednesday and continuing into their losses Thursday night against the Golden Knights and Friday night against the Wild.

“We just worked on, right from faceoffs, getting out [and making] simple plays,” Richardson said Wednesday. “We have to simplify instead of trying to be more creative and fancy. If we’re not all on the same page right now, it’s going to create more offense for the other team, not us.”

Hawks players, tired of scraping for ways to escape this massive losing skid and exhausted from answering the same questions about it over and over, have bought in.

“I don’t want to say [we’re] careless with the puck, but . . . [we’re] not really making those smart plays,” forward Tyler Johnson said before re-aggravating his ankle injury Thursday. “Sometimes we try to force things. Sometimes we try too much for ‘hopers’ and think too much about offense compared to defense. I don’t know if that’s a maturity thing or what, but we’ve got to keep things a little bit simpler.”

Of course, many of the ideas involved in “simplification” — making safe passes and clears at both blue lines, dumping pucks in and forechecking, shooting whenever lanes are open and finishing checks firmly — are the same things all teams talk about constantly. The Hawks have focused for weeks on shooting more frequently and assertively. Forward MacKenzie Entwistle called the ideas “cliche.” But doing cliche things well is still better than doing anything else poorly.

“Those are [talking points] that have always been going around the room, and I’m sure go around every hockey room,” Entwistle said. “But sometimes when you’re holding onto pucks and trying to be too cute, you try to make that extra play instead of just getting it to the net. Having that shooting mentality over trying to make the perfect play all the time, that can go a long way.”

Richardson’s message extends all the way down to something as seemingly obvious as players keeping their feet moving at all times. “Moving feet” has become one of his favorite catchphrases — and there’s substance behind it. Two Knights goals Thursday occurred after Hawks players stagnated while puck-watching instead of covering opponents in open space. Johnson failed to locate Reilly Smith on the Knights’ second goal (a short-handed one), and forward Philipp Kurashev neglected to keep pace with Phil Kessel on the Knights’ third goal.

“They hustle back early, [but then] our feet stop moving and we’re staring at the puck,” Richardson said. “We have five guys’ heads looking this way. We’re not looking over our shoulders.”

In an ideal world, the Hawks would like to adopt one designed play that the Knights used often against them: sending one forward “slashing through the middle” to push opposing defensemen back and create more space for the other two forwards. Sam Lafferty’s speed to make plays like that is why he’s currently on the first line with Patrick Kane and Max Domi.

But even trying to do that might be counterproductive for the Hawks right now. The simpler, the better, it seems. 

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