Hawks' power play continues to struggle
PHILADELPHIA -- The Chicago Blackhawks still have a one-game lead in the Stanley Cup finals, but they're getting absolutely walloped right now in an area where many NHL championships have been won.
They are getting killed on special teams, and if that trend continues, they won't be leading this series for very long.
Chicago went 0-for-3 with the man advantage Wednesday night in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and is now 0-for-6 in the Cup finals. According to Elias Sports, the Hawks are the first team since the 2003 Anaheim Ducks not to score on the power play through the first three games of the finals.
Being oh-fer on the power play three games into the Cup finals? That usually spells disaster. Amazingly, the Hawks are still ahead thanks to their five-on-five play. But they can't survive on it; it'll catch up to them.
On the flip side, the Flyers scored two power-play goals in Game 3, two goals that gave them a lot of energy at a revved-up Wachovia Center. Philadelphia is now 4-for-10 for the series, four goals that cannot be understated in a series where all three games have been decided by one goal.
With the talent the Hawks can roll out on each of their power-play units, it's a head-scratcher to be sure. Entering the Cup finals, the Hawks' power-play unit was rolling at over 20 percent, but they've suddenly fallen flat. Some of that comes from a red-hot Flyers penalty kill that has now stopped 27 of the last 28 opposition power plays dating back to the start of the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal. Credit Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger for a big part of that statistic.
"I feel we can succeed against them," Hawks blueliner Brian Campbell, on the second unit, told ESPN.com outside a quiet dressing room after Game 3. "We do have to find a way to get more pucks through to the net, as defensemen, and give our forwards a chance."
For the Hawks, it's been that kind of season on the power play. While they've been better in the opening three rounds of the playoffs, they ranked only 16th in the NHL (17.7 percent) during the regular season. It's not uncommon for talented teams to sometimes struggle on the power play -- just look at Pittsburgh being 19th during the regular season.
The problem can often be traced to young star players trying to make too pretty a play instead of pounding the puck through lanes and looking for rebounds.
"I just think we need a little more movement and shoot the puck," said star defenseman Duncan Keith, who's on the first unit. "We're trying to be too cute at times. Just keep it simple and shoot the puck."
"One thing we have to key on is hitting the net and shooting for rebounds," said Campbell.
The Flyers, meanwhile, are getting plenty of chances on their power play. It's a dangerous ensemble that has found a way to come through against a Hawks penalty kill that was fourth in the NHL in the regular season and third entering the Cup finals.
What can the Hawks do to counter this Flyers power play?
"Stay out of the box, that's the biggest thing," said Hawks penalty killer Brent Sopel. "Stay out of the box and don't give them the opportunity. We have to be a lot smarter."
The Hawks have taken four extra penalties compared with the Flyers in this series, another trend they want to erase. Dustin Byfuglien had two of Chicago's three penalties Wednesday night, one for roughing and another for slashing.
Discipline wins championships, too.
"Every day we talk about that, I mean every day," said Keith. "And sooner or later, we're going to have to get it in our heads."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.