Five changes Blackhawks could make in Game 4
BOSTON -- The Chicago Blackhawks haven't scored a goal in more than 122 minutes and they trail the Boston Bruins, 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
The Blackhawks have to make adjustments. They need to be better in several different areas if they want to break out of this death grip that the Bruins have them in and even the series before it shifts back to United Center for Game 5 on Saturday.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is no doubt dissecting Game 3, poring over video to find where his team can improve and what advantages it can look for in Game 4.
Here are five changes the Blackhawks will likely be exploring as they devise a game plan to win Game 4:
1. Erase Boston's advantage at the dot
The road team is always supposed to be at a disadvantage on faceoffs because it has to have its sticks down first. The home faceoff man gains the advantage because he can come down with his stick as the puck is being dropped.
"You can look and see what they're doing, where their feet are, where their stick is and where their hands are," Blackhawks center Dave Bolland said. "When you have the chance to go down last, you always have the advantage."
But that doesn't mean the discrepancy in faceoffs should be as great as it was in Game 3.
Chicago lost 40 of the 56 faceoffs, including 24 of 28 to Patrice Bergeron. Michal Handzus was 0-for-10 through two periods and then didn't take a draw in the third. Bolland was 1-for-8 through two periods, and he, too, didn't take another faceoff in the third period. Jonathan Toews lost 11 of his 19 faceoffs.
The Blackhawks were particularly bad in the offensive zone, where they lost 17 of 23 faceoffs. They were 1-for-7 when they were on the power play. Chicago lost 12 of 17 faceoffs in the defensive zone and 11 of 16 in the neutral zone.
"We've been watching the group of centermen here, digesting it, dissecting it, knowing we have to be better as well," Quenneville said.
However, it's not only on the centers; the Blackhawks need their wingers to be more active and aggressive in pursuit of the puck after the centers try to win it.
"Bergeron had a great night, but it's not just on the centermen taking them," said forward Patrick Sharp, who won three of his five draws. "We looked back at things and there are a number of 50-50 pucks we can come up with as wingers. You don't just point the finger at the one guy; it's really a team effort to get the puck back."
2. Simplify their entries on the power play
Chicago's power play has been problematic -- and that's putting it lightly. More to the point, the Blackhawks' power play is absolutely killing their entire game. Not only is it getting shut out (0-for-11 in the Cup Final), it's taking momentum away from the rest of Chicago's game.
A big part of the problem is the way the Blackhawks are trying to enter the zone. The offensive blue line has become like a jumble of barriers that can't be navigated. They are slow and timid when they reach the blue line and it's giving the Bruins a chance to pressure at the high points to turn over the puck and create shorthanded scoring chances, sometimes breakaways.
Generating speed through the neutral zone would help the Blackhawks get clean entries into the zone, but to gain and keep possession against the Bruins requires an even simpler strategy of just getting the puck in deep in any way possible and going to chase it down.
"It's tough to get a clean entry. I think we might have to get a little indirect plays to get possession on our entries," Quenneville said. "It starts with losing the draw initially. That's the area we have to get better. Hopefully you don't have to resort to the entry. We're still going to have to find a way to get through it and find ways to have possession off it. Might have to go indirectly to get it and have puck battles to get more retrievals."
Utilizing the chip-and-chase game isn't something the Blackhawks typically resort to because of their speed and playmaking ability, but if they use it they can still play to their strength, which is their speed, but only without the puck. They can use that speed to go in and hunt the puck down behind the Bruins' four penalty killers, who rarely break their structure and usually like to attack the puck.
However, if Chicago uses this style, it has to beat the Bruins to the puck. If it doesn't, Boston is essentially putting a box around the puck, sealing it off and clearing it down 200 feet.
And if the Blackhawks can get the puck deep and win the puck battles, it will also open up their cycle game and that could get the Bruins away from finding the pressure points. At the very least, getting the puck deep and winning the battles will alleviate some of the poise issues the Blackhawks are dealing with at the points.
3. Shift Kane around on the power play
Patrick Kane plays on the right-wing half-wall when the Blackhawks are on the power play. He's typically dangerous there, but remember that is also the area Bruins captain Zdeno Chara patrols. If Chicago is going to dump the puck in and have it go into their right corner, the odds of Kane winning the puck battle against Chara are slim.
However, if the Blackhawks moved Kane around on the power play, maybe shift him to the left side on their entries and have Jonathan Toews on the right side, that could give them a chance to win more battles in that right corner so they could free the puck up and have Kane dangerous on the left-wall. Since he's a lefty, he may also be able to protect the puck there and make plays.
4. Put the big guns back together
Chicago hasn't scored a goal in the past 122:26. To break the slump, it's time for Quenneville to load up his top line and put Sharp, Toews and Kane together.
"Usually when we're put together it's a situation when we need to score, we're chasing from behind, so the mindset is hop the boards with that attack-first mentality, get to the net, make something happen," Sharp said.
They need that mentality now. They need to score.
The argument against loading up is that it makes matchups easier for the Bruins, who will put the Bergeron line with Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the ice as much as possible against a line with Sharp, Toews and Kane. That's fair, but what Chicago is doing now is not working, so it's time for Quenneville to see what his best can do against the Bruins' best.
"We'll see how we go along here," Quenneville said, "what the lines will be."
5. Raise the battle level and get to the front of the net
The Bruins are arguably the best team in the NHL at protecting their goalie and sealing off the slot. They rarely break structure and they're so big on the back end that even when teams put in a full effort to get to the front of the net, they still find it quite difficult to establish position there.
"They do have a tight game, play a tight house and get back there quickly," Bolland said.
The Blackhawks can't use that as an excuse. They have to do what the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't do -- find a way.
"The non-puck carriers have got to be willing to travel there," Quenneville said. "It's tough to get the puck, but we've got to be willing, the non-puck carriers, to get there. I thought we did a real good job in the L.A. series. At times in this series we've had more presence at the front of the net. That's what we've got to be looking to do: travel, get there, make sure [goalie Tuukka Rask] doesn't see the puck."
A key is recognition. The Blackhawks have to be aware of when there is even the slightest of openings to get to the net and who is playing against them. For example, if it's Chara and they can take him to the front of the net, then Chicago could force him to act as a screen in front of Rask.
"The more you get Chara or Seidenberg in front of him, it's going to be worse for him," Bolland said. "For us, it's just battling and getting them to the net, moving."