Can the Blackhawks fix what has ailed their penalty kill unit for 3 seasons?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The Chicago Blackhawks have the second-worst penalty kill unit over the last three seasons. They let up 4 power play goals to Detroit in a preseason game Monday. So is more of the same to come?

    The Chicago Blackhawks have the second-worst penalty kill unit over the last three seasons. They let up 4 power play goals to Detroit in a preseason game Monday. So is more of the same to come? Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/8/2021 11:40 AM

Don't worry. It's only preseason.

It's no big deal that the Blackhawks yielded 4 power-play goals during a 6-4 victory Monday at Detroit.

 

There's plenty of time to get it right. To try things. To get used to new teammates.

Right?

Perhaps, but the Hawks' penalty kill has been painstakingly bad the past three seasons, ranking 30th at 77.1%. Only Detroit (76.5%) has been worse.

We can pass the blame around as easily as opponents pass the puck en route to goal after goal after goal.

It's the goalie. It's the system. It's the roster. It's lack of killer instinct. It's unwillingness to block shots.

So how do things improve? One would think adding Vezina-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defensemen Seth Jones and Jake McCabe would help immensely.

Combine that trio with Connor Murphy, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Carpenter and PK newcomers Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach and perhaps Brandon Hagel and a formula for success should be at hand.

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On Tuesday, coach Jeremy Colliton spent time with Dach and DeBrincat, trying to get them to deflect passes from three forwards near the top of the offensive zone.

"We'll keep doing this and get reps and reps and reps, because it's good for you to work together," Colliton said as they skated off.

Asked what makes the offensively talented duo such a good option, Colliton said: "They both have excellent hockey sense and really good instincts. In the back of your neck you just know what's going to happen, so that helps. They probably kill a bit different than someone who's more of a defensive mindset. Maybe they're more aggressive or more willing to jump, and they're both excellent skaters.

"Just a different way of killing, and that's good for us to be unpredictable."

DeBrincat impressed late last season, creating numerous short-handed opportunities. He converted one in Carolina on May 4 after stealing the puck along the side boards, then racing the other way and beating goalie Petr Mrazek.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Another way for the Hawks to improve on the penalty kill would be to block more shots. They actually ranked ninth last season with 767, with Connor Murphy (2.46 per game) and Calvin de Haan (1.93) leading the way. Jones (1.76 the last five years) and McCabe (1.48 last five) also are both willing to sacrifice their bodies.

The key, according to Murphy, is to understand when it's best to attempt a block because there are times when you might be hindering the goalie.

"It's more about having that knack of knowing and trusting what lane you're in that it's gonna hit you," Murphy told me two years ago. "The pucks are coming close to 100 miles per hour, and sometimes you aren't sure whether you're (in the right spot). ...

"You have guys like (Niklas) Hjalmarsson who have such a knack of knowing how to (take) up the majority of the lane the puck has to get to get to the net."

The Hawks ran hot and cold on the PK last season, when they finished 28th at 76.8%. A serious hot stretch came during the final 23 games when they killed off 44 of 51 power plays (86.3%). But in the 15 contests before that opponents cashed in 40.9% of their chances (18 of 44).

After allowing Minnesota to go 1-for-2 on the power play in a 3-2 OT loss Thursday, the Hawks have one more chance to shore up the PK before the regular season begins.

"I'm putting players in situations because I want to see how they're going to respond, not knowing how it's going to turn out," said Colliton, whose team wraps up the preseason against the Wild at the United Center on Saturday. "We don't have (much time left), so there is urgency to get better quickly. We know that typically at the start of the season there's more penalties, so it'll be a big part of winning and losing."

Slap shots:

Defenseman Caleb Jones will miss approximately six weeks with a left wrist strain. ... The Hawks assigned forward Colton Dach and defenseman Nolan Allen to their junior teams. Forwards Evan Barratt and Dmitri Osipov were reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs. ...

Forward Patrick Kane and defenseman Seth Jones joined Auston Matthews as the first three players to be named to the U.S. Olympic team. The rest of the 25-player squad is expected to be unveiled in January. Team USA is scheduled to begin play on Feb. 10 against host China.

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