Video: Chicago Blackhawks’ Dreadful Team Defense and Penalty Kill

It looks like there are a few imposing barriers working against the Blackhawks’ hopes to repeat as Cup champions in 2013-14.
We all know about the brutal PK.
We should be concerned about the team defense as well. For those unsure of what I’m referring to, “team defense” is what it sounds like: the overall awareness, effort, and effectiveness of Blackhawks forwards and defensemen in their own zone; i.e., the defensive play of the team as a whole.

Measuring Chicago’s ’13-14 Team Defense Via Comparison

Chicago has the second-worst goals against average and second-highest 5-on-5 GA total among teams currently in a playoff position. This – when combined with the fact that Chicago sits at the top of the Western Conference and league in the standings – yields a rather bizarre juxtaposition. The track record for offensive-oriented, one-dimensional teams in the post-2004 lockout era is not promising; you probably remember these guys pretty well, for example, for flaming out rather pathetically in the first round of the playoffs to a far less talented Montreal team.
The Blackhawks were dominant last season because of their incontrovertibly elite defensive play. Remember those awards they won at the end of the season? Yeah, this one was pretty nice. A lot of Blackhawk fans weren’t too upset about this one, either. The penalty kill was ridiculously proficient and was running on automatic come playoff time. Chicago could always score – that was and is never going to be a problem on a team Patrick Kane plays for – but the success stemmed from their defense.

So What Exactly Is Wrong With the Team Defense This Year?

Chicago’s Team Defense: A Few Notes

Before I dip into the woeful penalty kill, I want to make a few things clear.
1. Mistakes are going to be made. They’re inevitable. The problem isn’t so much that the Blackhawks are committing defensive mental errors; rather, it’s that they’re making so many of them. The two videos above were simply intended to display how mistakes can “breed off of one another,” so to speak, and ultimately lead to goals against. Chicago’s real issue is the sheer volume of these mistakes, and that’s the biggest difference between this and last season.
2. Take heart, Blackhawks fans: These issues are very correctable. Last year was hardly a once-in-a-lifetime Chicago defensive miracle that can’t ever be matched again. I’d contend that the players were simply more focused on playing solid defensive hockey in ’12-13 than they have been this year. It happens – the infamous “Cup hangover” may not always present itself directly in the standings, but there’s always some residual effect.
3. Chicago’s goaltending hasn’t been very good either, I know. But better netminding will come with better defense – it doesn’t often work the other way around.

The Penalty Kill Is Terrifyingly Awful

The Hawks’ PK is paradoxical. They are aggressive in that they permit (and encourage) forwards and defensemen to stretch their coverage area (think of the 2-3 zone in basketball). But the PK strategy is also passive in that it doesn’t emphasize direct pressure on opposing players who have the puck. It’s complicated.
Ultimately, the issue with Chicago’s penalty kill has been a mix of shoddy goaltending and ineffective execution.
I managed to stave off saying it (again) for a few paragraphs. That was really hard for me, you have to understand.
Oh, I did promise you one more thing when I wrote this


PROPHET KENT SIMPSON’s first-ever NHL action was thoroughly depressing. You had to feel for the guy, getting thrown into a game that his team just wasn’t interested in playing (the first two periods against Toronto consisted of some of the least inspired hockey the Blackhawks have put forth this year). I imagine he was pretty jittery, and it didn’t help to be faced with a quality scoring chance 28 seconds into his NHL career… and have it slip by to boot.
But it’s okay! PROPHET KENT SIMPSON has my full trust, and he should have yours too.
I’m up for starting the official fan club if I get enough support. Let me know.

Follow Sean Sarcu on Twitter: @seansarcu