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updated: 9/27/2017 6:58 PM

Does having a top-notch power play ensure NHL success?

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  • Left wing Richard Panik celebrates with his teammates after scoring on a first-period power play against the St. Louis Blues last season. The Blackhawks haven't had the most potent power plays in the Joel Quenneville era, and that's not the end of the world to Kevin Dineen. The Hawks' 53-year-old assistant would rather see his special-teams unit come through in the clutch more often.

    Left wing Richard Panik celebrates with his teammates after scoring on a first-period power play against the St. Louis Blues last season. The Blackhawks haven't had the most potent power plays in the Joel Quenneville era, and that's not the end of the world to Kevin Dineen. The Hawks' 53-year-old assistant would rather see his special-teams unit come through in the clutch more often.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, October 2016

 
 

When it comes to the power play, Kevin Dineen isn't much of a numbers guy.

And looking back at the last nine years since coach Joel Quenneville took over as coach of the Blackhawks, it's easy to see why.

The Hawks -- even with all the firepower, all the big names, all the intimidation they throw at you -- have finished in the top 10 in the NHL just twice since 2008-09.

And guess what?

In both of those postseasons (2011, '16), they were eliminated in the first round.

As for the Hawks' three title teams? They finished no better than 15th. As for the leaguewide trend? The only champion to finish with a top-10 power play in this span was the 2016-17 Penguins.

Seems strange, but it's not to Dineen, the 53-year-old assistant who runs the special-teams unit.

"For me the numbers are what they are, but I think there's certain times of a game that are important," said Dineen, who pointed to a power-play chance the Hawks whiffed on during the third period of a 1-0 loss in Game 1 vs. Nashville last April. "It's those key times -- those are the (key) areas for me more than the overall percentage.

"You can say, 'Oh, yeah we were top 10 in the league, so we were good. Or we were top 5.' It's how you affect the time of the game. We've got room for improvement."

The Hawks will certainly miss Artemi Panarin's lethal one-timer, but they are hoping to come up with important PP goals by using four forwards and one defenseman early on. It can be a risky strategy, but Dineen isn't worried.

"We've got guys that are responsible and can get back," he said.

Watch for the top unit to consist of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith. The second unit should include Nick Schmaltz, Richard Panik, Artem Anisimov, Brent Seabrook and Alex DeBrincat or Ryan Hartman as the fourth forward.

"There's a lot of skilled guys out there so there's a lot of different directions you can go," Saad said. "I think it's looked pretty good so far."

The keys to a successful power play are gaining and keeping control of the puck in the offensive zone, winning faceoffs in the 'O' zone and having an imposing, fearless player who can wreak havoc in front of the net. The Hawks' top unit should provide all of that, but Schmaltz and Anisimov need to win their fair share of faceoffs for the second unit to flourish.

That second team also needs Seabrook -- who managed just 2 PP goals last season -- to step up and unload his lethal shot with more frequency and accuracy.

"He's got a great weapon," Quenneville said. "Shoots it hard as anybody and that's a great threat. You don't have to feel like there's one more play when you get that type of look."

A team's power play is always under construction. Dineen must decide if he wants the Hawks in a 1-3-1 or a 2-3 in the offensive zone, and he's always on the lookout for weaknesses in the opponent's penalty-kill units.

One advantage Dineen has is his ability to adjust on the fly, thanks to all the talent -- and experience -- the Hawks possess.

"The fun part about working with the guys that we have is the expectations are to be really good and perform at a really high level, which means if they don't score they're not happy," Dineen said. "It's just a matter of having lots of conversations and staying with what we feel is going to be effective."

How will the Hawks fare this season is anybody's guess, but a top-10 finish is a realistic goal. And, while it doesn't guarantee a ticket to the playoffs, 67.5 percent of teams that finished in the top 10 the past four years did qualify.

"You look around the room and there's tremendous players," Saad said. "For different reasons sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't.

"But with the firepower in the room, it should definitely be in the top of the league."

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