Hawks, Brent Seabrook are killin’ it
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org January 23, 2013 3:24PM
The facts: 7:30, CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: February 25, 2013 12:46PM
Brent Seabrook isn’t quite as sore as the statistics would have you believe. Yes, he leads the league in blocked shots with 13 through three games, but he was quick to point out they’re not all direct hits.
“I don’t know who was counting them,” the Blackhawks defenseman said. “Some of them just sort of grazed off me in good spots. It’s one of those things where I’m trying to get in the right lanes and get in the way. A few pucks hit me. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
For Seabrook’s bruised flesh, it’s probably a bad thing. But for the Hawks’ penalty kill, it’s definitely a good thing. Through three games, all wins, the Hawks have shown a renewed willingness — an eagerness, even — to sacrifice their bodies to keep the puck out of their own net. It’s a big reason why the penalty-killing unit — 27th in the league last season — opened the campaign with nine consecutive successful kills before finally yielding a power play goal in the third period Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues.
“It’s something we struggled with last year,” Seabrook said. “It was good for us to sort of focus on that in the minicamp, and try to get off to a good start.”
At 90 percent, the start couldn’t be much better. The New Jersey Devils led the league last year with a spectacular 89.6 percent on the penalty kill, while the Hawks were a meager 78.1 percent. The Hawks’ next chance to improve those numbers even further comes Thursday at Dallas, which was dead last in the league on the power play last season (13.5 percent).
There’s plenty of technique involved in playing a man down — the four defenders moving in concert, playing the angles, putting pressure on the puck-handlers, and simply clearing the puck when given the chance — but energy and effort count, too. And that, the Hawks say, is making the biggest difference so far. Besides Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson (seven), Duncan Keith (six), and Johnny Oduya (five) are among the league leaders in blocked shots, with many of them coming during opponents’ power plays.
“It’s all of those things, but more than anything, it’s the willingness to block shots, get in lanes, and that kind of attention to detail,” Seabrook said. “You’re battling out there for two minutes — and that’s what it is, a battle. You’ve got to get in the right lanes, block shots, be smart, try to limit their shots, and sometimes when things break down, you need a big save.”
There was plenty of talk about special teams during the abbreviated training camp last week, since the Hawks were near the bottom of the league both a man up and a man down. And while the penalty kill has been nearly perfect, the power play hasn’t been bad, either. The Hawks have scored a power play goal in each of their first three games, with a 23.1 percent (3-of-13) success rate. Last year, they scored just 15.1 percent of the time.
“It’s certainly huge,” defenseman Nick Leddy said. “Power play and penalty kill can make or a break a game sometimes.”
On the power play, the Hawks have sustained more consistent pressure in the attack zone, while trying to generate more traffic in front of the net. Even when they’re not scoring, they’ve wasted less time trying to get the power play set up.
“Last year, that was one of our biggest problems, we couldn’t get it in their end,” said winger Viktor Stalberg, who was added to the power play unit during training camp. “We spent a lot of time in the neutral zone. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I think it’ll only get better as we get more familiar with each other, and we’ll start getting more shots at the net and more pucks in the net.”