Blackhawks work on 6-on-5, 5-on-6 scenarios in practice after Sunday debacle
After allowing two empty-net goals to the Panthers within 10 seconds of pulling their goalie, the Blackhawks want to have a more specific plan in extra-attacker situations moving forward.
The Blackhawks have struggled in almost every possible on-ice situation this season, but at least they’ve spent equivalent practice time trying to fix most of the problems.
The same cannot be said for six-on-five and five-on-six situations when they or their opponents have pulled the goalie. The Hawks have been one of the NHL’s worst teams in those scenarios, too, yet barely touched on them in practice.
That changed this week. In response to their particularly awful extra-attacker performance Sunday against the Panthers, they spent awhile practicing it Tuesday and touched on it again Wednesday.
“It was obviously frustrating for some guys last game with those two six-on-fives,” Brandon Hagel said Tuesday. “Because we did play a decent game and had ourselves in it all night, then we pulled our goalie and — five seconds later — it’s in the back of our net. That’s a killer. So it was good to work on that.”
In 35 minutes of six-on-five time this season, the Hawks rank a mediocre 17th in scoring chances per minute (1.06) and 18th in shots on goal per minute (1.09) but a horrendous 31st in expected goals per minute (0.08).
They’ve scored six extra-attacker goals, but three have been during delayed penalties. Their only such goals in late-game scenarios happened Oct. 15 against the Devils, a two-goal rally that ended with an overtime loss, and Jan. 28 against the Avalanche, in which two empty-net goals they allowed doomed them to a regulation loss. They’ve allowed 13 empty-net goals in total.
Meanwhile, in 22 minutes of five-on-six time, the Hawks have allowed the most shots on goal (1.91), second-most scoring chances (1.59) and fifth-most expected goals against (0.16) per minute.
They’ve surrendered late game-tying goals to teams with an extra attacker three times — Dec. 5 against the Islanders, Dec. 15 against the Capitals and Jan. 22 against the Wild — and allowed another extra-attacker goal Nov. 17 against the Kraken that ultimately didn’t matter. They’ve only scored five empty-net goals.
Those woes came to a head Sunday. The Hawks pulled Marc-Andre Fleury when Sam Lafferty dumped the puck into the far corner with 1:57 left, but Hagel lost the puck battle all alone — Caleb Jones could’ve pinched in to help but didn’t — and the Panthers quickly passed through the Hawks for a breakaway empty-netter with 1:48 left.
The Hawks pulled Fleury again when Patrick Kane dumped the puck in with 1:19 left. But Dylan Strome lost the initial puck battle by himself, Alex DeBrincat didn’t forecheck hard enough and the Panthers found space for a half-rink empty-netter with 1:09 left.
“We got the goalie out at the right time, and we had the puck,” interim coach Derek King said Tuesday. “You’re going to have to dump a puck in a lot of times, but it’s [about] what you do after that. We were just looking at each other like, ‘Who’s going to get it?’ Instead of just, ‘Everybody go get it.’”
The Hawks want to have a more specialized plan for those empty-net scenarios, knowing they have to act differently — and more aggressively — in those situations than in others.
Their 30 remaining games might not matter much in the long run, but they can’t stop trying to improve on their weaknesses.
“You can’t just sit back,’’ King said. ‘‘We did that, and they pumped two on us.”
“When you’re coming into the zone, you have to keep possession of the puck,” Strome said Wednesday.
“[And] if you have to dump it in, you have to work extra hard to get it back. Guys are pretty skilled, so it’s easy for them to fire it down to an empty net.”