With aggressiveness long gone, Blackhawks’ penalty kill bleeding goals

The Hawks have allowed a power-play goal in seven straight games — for the first time since 2016 — and rank 31st in the NHL in net PK rate since Nov. 17, when the unit’s decline began.

SHARE With aggressiveness long gone, Blackhawks’ penalty kill bleeding goals
Connor Murphy fights for the puck.

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill allowed another goal Wednesday against the Predators.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Blackhawks’ penalty killers all made mistakes simultaneously after a faceoff loss in the third -period Wednesday.

Not surprisingly, the Predators’ power play scored in six seconds, providing the insurance goal in their 4-2 victory.

And that has been a recurring theme for the Hawks lately. For the first time since October 2016, they’ve conceded a power-play goal in seven consecutive games — an especially remarkable feat considering their opponents have had only one power-play opportunity in three of those games.

Coach Luke Richardson said Thursday that the Hawks’ PK coverage breakdowns are similar to their five-on-five coverage breakdowns — which are also prevalent — but “more glorified” because they’re happening against top opposing players, who are more likely to take advantage.

On Wednesday, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen won the draw in the right circle against Jason Dickinson. The puck went back to Roman Josi at the right point. Josi passed across to fellow Predators defenseman Thomas Novak, who was skating down from the left point in a likely set play.

Johansen curled around and somewhat blocked Dickinson’s and Connor Murphy’s routes to the left side of the zone. The big mistakes, however, were made by Jack Johnson and Sam Lafferty.

Originally, Johnson was assigned to cover the right side and Murphy the left side, but they could’ve switched in the moment once Murphy was held up getting across. Instead, Johnson simply pointed with his stick at Novak’s open lane but stayed on the right side.

And Lafferty, from his starting position on the inside of the faceoff circle, tried to get across into Novak’s lane from the goal side of Predators forward Filip Forsberg, which allowed Forsberg to essentially box him out. Richardson called it “borderline interference” but clarified that every team does it, including the Hawks.

Lafferty should’ve taken an outside route — up toward the blue line — to evade Forsberg and take away the Josi-to-Novak passing lane. Richardson said they call it “leaking out.”

“It’s just a missed assignment,” he added. “The next penalty kill was much better. But we’ve got to make sure we do it better every time, not do it better the next time.”

The Hawks’ recent penalty-killing struggles are somewhat surprising, considering what a bright spot the unit was earlier this season.

During training camp, Richardson installed a PK system that emphasized aggressive forechecking, and it yielded plenty of fruit at first. Through Nov. 16, the Hawks were tied for 12th in the NHL with an 83.3% net PK rate — a stat that factors in power-play goals allowed as well as short-handed goals scored — and were allowing the fourth-fewest scoring chances per minute.

But since Nov. 17 against the Bruins, the Hawks rank 31st with a 61.1% net PK rate (leading only the Kraken) and have allowed the second-most scoring chances per minute (leading only the Coyotes). They’ve conceded 14 goals on 36 power plays.

Their supposed aggressiveness isn’t failing; it’s nonexistent. That’s partly because their short-handed faceoff winning percentage has regressed, too, falling from a league-leading 59.3% through Nov. 16 to just 45.9% since.

“Because they’ve been lit up lately, we can talk about it all we want, but there’s an insecurity inside to play aggressive,” Richardson said.

“Early in the season, when we were so aggressive up ice, part of it is we got clears off faceoffs when we had fresh legs. It created disruption on [opposing power plays], and it kept us out of the D-zone. Now it seems like we’re in the D-zone the whole time on the PK. So then you’re tired, and when you get [the puck] out, you have to change, and you don’t really have that opportunity to get up ice. So it’s kind of a trickle effect.”

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