Blackhawks satisfied with box-plus-one defensive structure, just not with execution

The zone-based “box-plus-one” defensive system that coach Luke Richardson has installed still seems like the best option. The Hawks are just making too many mistakes while trying to follow that structure.

SHARE Blackhawks satisfied with box-plus-one defensive structure, just not with execution
Jake McCabe battles Matt Dumba in the Blackhawks-Wild game Friday.

The Blackhawks still have to kill plays in their defensive zone to make their structure work, and they often fail to do so.

Abbie Parr/AP

When Seth Jones mentioned the Blackhawks need to “play a system that’s good for all of us” after another discouraging loss Sunday, it was worth asking the question.

Does he believe in the Hawks’ current system? Is it just the execution, not the system itself, letting them down?

“It’s the execution, for sure,” Jones said.

That answer aligns with what coach Luke Richardson has said as well as with the eye test.

Richardson’s switch from Jeremy Colliton’s controversial “hybrid man-on-man” defensive structure to a more conventional, zone-like “box-plus-one” structure in training camp seemed like a much-needed change.

Even now, after 15 losses in 16 games, it’s difficult to argue any other structure would be better. This is exclusively a lack-of-talent problem. Imagining this patchwork, mistake-prone roster attempting to follow Colliton’s frequently mistake-prompting approach triggers instant nightmares.

“We could go man-on-man, but if we’re not strong enough to kill the play, people are going to slide off, and then there’s people leaving people to go to that guy, so everything is not going to work,” Richardson said recently. “That’s what we’re harping on. Focus on a ‘hit and a pin’ with your guy, and then we’ll get some help. It did work.”

After all, when the Hawks commit turnovers, lose track of their marks, double up on opponents pointlessly, get caught flat-footed while puck-watching or make risky dives to steal the puck, they’ll get burned. The structure is just a starting point, Richardson said.

“When it’s your chance to engage, you have to hit and pin and kill the play and get the puck and move it forward,” he added. “[If you don’t], it doesn’t matter what system you play, you’re breaking down.

“Then there’s a five-on-four or there’s a two-on-one somewhere in the D-zone, so nothing is going to work. You have to have a special goalie to make a big save. We’ve put our goalies in that position too much.”

On Friday, the Wild’s first goal came after the Hawks pursued the puck around their defensive zone without killing the play for nearly a minute. The constant movement eventually opened up lanes for three consecutive cross-ice passes and a tap-in goal.

The Hawks’ structure actually held up well throughout the shift, making it a perfect example of execution letting them down.

On Sunday, conversely, almost every Rangers five-on-five goal happened off an odd-man rush, and the one that didn’t — Filip Chytil’s opener — was jump-started by Jack Johnson’s turnover that gave the Hawks no time to set up their structure.

“We have to trust that what we were doing the first part of the first period is going to work for 60 minutes,” he said. “But we didn’t, and I don’t think we trust it. So we somehow have to get back to that.”

The Latest
Right-hander allowed four home runs against Yankees Saturday
At least 28 people were wounded, including one person who died, in shootings in Chicago from about 9 p.m. Saturday through Sunday afternoon, according to police.
On May 21, 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped Bobby Franks and bludgeoned him to death. The “thrill killing,” one of many to be dubbed “the crime of the century,” remains a puzzle.
“Guys have stepped up, but we’re not playing our best baseball,” reliever Hayden Wesneski said.
Schauffele closed with a 6-under 65 to beat Bryson DeChambeau, entertaining to the very end with a 10-foot birdie on the 18th hole for a 64.