By Jay Zawaski
In the Chicago Blackhawks’ last three games, they’ve outscored their opponents by a combined score of 19-6. While none of their opponents (Florida, Dallas and Philadelphia) are world beaters (or even playoff teams), the recent goal output has been impressive.
Consider Wednesday’s win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Hawks won that game 7-2 and scored those seven goals on 23 shots. That’s good for a shooting percentage of 30.4 percent — nearly one in three shots going in the net.
That same night, the Chicago Bulls faced the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The Bulls were 24-72 from the field, which is good for 33.3 percent.
Amazing that an NHL team nearly equaled the shooting percentage of an NBA team. Yes, it was a horrible game for the Bulls, but that seems almost impossible when comparing the two sports.
So, what has the Hawks offense clicking at such a high level?
There are a few factors:
—Scoring depth. The Hawks can roll four lines that can score. In fact, their first line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp may be the best in hockey. Their second line features the NHL’s second leading scorer, Patrick Kane. Yes, the NHL’s second-leading scorer is on the Hawks’ second line. Sure, Kane is a first-line talent, but that illustrates the Hawks’ unparalleled depth.
Consider, too, that the Hawks, as currently assembled, haven’t yet played at full strength. Bryan Bickell was injured shortly after the Hawks re-acquired Kris Versteeg. When Bickell returns to the lineup any day now, take a look at these lines: Sharp-Toews-Hossa; Saad-Handzus-Kane; Bickell-Shaw-Versteeg; and Bollig-Kruger-Smith.
The Blackhawks have six players with 10 or more goals.
The Hawks also have Brandon Pirri (six goals) and Jeremy Morin (who will likely be sent down when Bickell returns) a simple phone call away in Rockford.
–Puck-moving defensemen. When Stan Bowman assembled this team, he had a vision. That vision included defensemen who were strong defenders, and even better puck-movers. With the exception of Sheldon Brookbank, every Hawk D-man can move the puck confidently and efficiently. This is hardly news to anyone who’s watched the Hawks since “the turnaround,” but it’s an organizational philosophy. Even newcomer Michael Kostka has shown the ability to skate and contribute offensively.
–A functional, dominant power play. Last season, the Hawks won the Stanley Cup, despite an absolute lack of competence on the power play. It was as bad as any power play I’ve seen in my 25-plus years of watching hockey religiously. This season, with a minor personnel tweak here or there (Leddy on the point, Andrew Shaw in front), the power play is tied for fourth in the NHL.
The Hawks have simplified the power play, and it’s worked. They’ve executed all the little things Joel Quenneville has preached in the past: shots on goal, net front presence, and dumps when necessary. The power play is a very simple tool. It’s an equalizer for teams that are outmatched, talent-wise. A team with the Hawks offensive skill should be dominating with the man advantage. Finally, they are.
So, what’s to say that this Blackhawks team isn’t as good, or better, than the 2013 Cup Champions? No team in the NHL can match their depth. If the Hawks can somehow fix their broken penalty kill (more on that next time), they’ll be close to unstoppable. If the Hawks can stay healthy and get Corey Crawford back to his 2013 form, they’ll be primed for another Cup run this spring.