Blackhawks grinder Lance Bouma finds efficiency in simplicity
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There’s nothing fancy about Blackhawks winger Lance Bouma’s game. You won’t see him wheeling around the defensive zone, ragging the puck in search of a perfect breakout. You won’t see him dangling through traffic in the slot.
In the defensive zone, he has one mission: Get the puck out as quickly as possible. In the offensive zone, he has one mission: Get the puck to the net as quickly as possible.
Bouma is a hockey Hemingway, straightforward, not flowery. He is blunt-force hockey. And on a team of freewheeling freelancers, his style is proving to be among the most effective.
‘‘When the puck comes to his side in the D-zone, he’s very effective at advancing it,’’ linemate Tommy Wingels said. ‘‘It’s tough in this league to break the puck out. But if you can do it on the first opportunity and get out of your zone, a lot of offense comes from that.
‘‘When he’s out there, we don’t get stuck in our zone because he’s so efficient at getting it out. He plays with speed through the neutral zone. He goes north with the puck. He’s not looking to bring it back; he’s not going to do a deep regroup. He’s going to take it over the blue line with speed. And that’s where it starts.’’
Considering how the Hawks are drowning in opposing shots on goal — 34 per game, fourth-worst in the league — Bouma’s teammates could learn a thing or two from him about efficiency. His counting stats are nothing special — a goal and four assists in 20 games — but his underlying numbers show how effective he has been.
Opponents simply can’t do much against Bouma. When he’s on the ice, the Hawks have more than 57 percent of the high-danger scoring chances, according to NaturalStatTrick.com — the best percentage on the team. Through 20 games, Bouma has been on the ice for only six goals against and 11 goals for. Only Nick Schmaltz, Richard Panik and Artem Anisimov have a better ratio than that.
Bouma’s not much of a numbers guy, but he had a sense that his line, with Wingels and John Hayden, had been effective. After all, it has been pretty much the only constant in coach Joel Quenneville’s ever-changing lineup.
‘‘I feel like I’m playing well,’’ Bouma said. ‘‘I think our line’s been really good this year. The biggest thing is we’re just keeping it pretty simple.’’
They’re also keeping it physical. Wingels, Hayden and Bouma are the top three Hawks in hits, another aspect of their game that separates them from their teammates.
‘‘You’re just trying to generate chances and be in the offensive zone as much as you can and give the other team hard minutes to play against,’’ Bouma said. ‘‘That’s when we feel like we’re playing our best. No matter if we score or not, we’re just trying to contribute in any way we can, whether it’s keeping them off the board or wearing them down.’’
During the Hawks’ recent goal drought, Quenneville pointed to Bouma and his line as an example of how to break out of a slump — with quick and direct breakouts, an aggressive forecheck, simple cycling and going hard to the net.
Now that the Hawks are scoring again, that’s still good advice. A little more Hemingway, a little less Hamlet. Just get right to the point.
‘‘We were maybe lacking that a bit in our game,’’ Wingels said. ‘‘When the goals are hard to come by, it’s about simplifying and going to the net and getting pucks to the net. You look at the majority of goals that are scored in this league, they’re in scrums around the net, they’re rebounds, they’re tip-ins. It’s all right around that blue-paint area.
‘‘We’ve talked about that a lot as a team. Let’s not take away our skill element, but let’s do a better job of getting to that area. Let’s be more direct.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.