Blackhawks defensemen need to pick it up offensively

  • Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones is congratulated by teammates after scoring last month in Seattle.

    Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones is congratulated by teammates after scoring last month in Seattle. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/3/2021 8:37 PM

Before the Blackhawks began practice at Fifth Third Arena on Tuesday the players set up on both sides of the ice and ran a simple drill.

With two forwards standing in front of the net, a defenseman corralled a puck and shot it. One forward attempted to tip it past the goalie, while the other was there looking for a rebound.

 

These kind of plays have been all but nonexistent for the Hawks during the first quarter of the season. Whether running a drill like this gets D-men thinking about putting more pucks on net remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure: The Hawks definitely need more goals from their blue liners.

Through Thursday's games only the Los Angeles Kings (3) have fewer combined goals out of their D-men than the Hawks (5). Those goals have come from Seth Jones (3), Connor Murphy (1) and Jake McCabe (1).

Jones' third goal was a timely one as it evened the score at 3-3 at Washington with 8:04 remaining Thursday. The Hawks went on to win 4-3 in a shootout to improve to 8-12-2.

"I came off the bench, saw a lane, I was calling for it and (Josiah Slavin) put it right on my tape," Jones said. "I just wanted to finish."

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Now, all of this is not to say that blueline production equals automatic success for a team. Hardly.

Calgary (14-4-5; 7 goals from D-men) and Edmonton (16-5-0; 8 goals from D-men) are two great examples. But you can get away with those kind of paltry numbers when your goaltenders are allowing 1.72 goals a game (Flames) or you have two ridiculous offensive weapons like the Oilers' Leon Draisaitl (20 goals) and Connor McDavid (15).

Otherwise, it really helps when the bottom-six forwards and a few guys on the back end are chipping in. Eight of the 16 teams in the West have at least 10 combined goals from their blue liners, with Colorado (22), Anaheim (19), Vegas (16) and Minnesota (16) leading the way. If the playoffs started today, the eight qualifying teams have an average of 12.4 goals from their defensemen.

The surprising Ducks (13-8-3) actually got 3 goals from D-men in a 6-5 victory over Vegas Wednesday.

So what's the solution for the Hawks, who aren't exactly stacked with a roster full of Roman Josis?

One might be to simply zing pucks on net at every opportunity. Fake a shot, change the angle, get it past the first wave of bodies and look for that forward in front of the net. Here's the thing, though -- the forwards need to actually pay the price and be willing to take punishment in front of the goalie.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Hawks tried this a few times against the Capitals, with no success. But that's OK. They need to keep trying.

The other possible remedy is to jump into the play more often, which is exactly what Jones did in the third period against Washington. After taking the slick pass from Slavin (who looked fantastic in his NHL debut) Jones rifled a shot that whizzed past goalie Vitak Vanecek.

Now, they obviously can't do this every shift. But allow Jones, Erik Gustafsson and Wyatt Kalynuk to pick their spots and surprise the defense more often.

It will result in more scoring chances, more goals ... and more victories.

Injury report:

Forward Jujhar Khaira will did not practice Friday due to a non-COVID illiness. Defenseman Connor Murphy has entered concussion protocol.

Terry released the following statement on Tyler Johnson:

"After trying to manage his neck pain conservatively for the past couple of weeks, Tyler underwent neck surgery today. The prognosis is good and his anticipated return to play is approximately three months."

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