CHICAGO -- If there was one topic that came up over and over again as the Blackhawks met the media and cleaned out their lockers on Wednesday it was the subpar play of their special teams.
It prevented them from earning more points in the regular season and helped derail their playoff series with the Phoenix Coyotes. The power-play unit scored once in 19 tries in the postseason after finishing ranked 26th during the regular season. The penalty kill gave up four goals to the worst power-play team entering the playoffs on the same 19 chances. It was ranked 27th in the regular season.
“I’m going to absorb the responsibility for its ineffectiveness for the most part,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Going forward as a staff we have to absorb some responsibility but the players have to as well. …Sharing that going forward has to be important.”
Of course it’s ultimately going to be on the players, but you can’t fire 23 players. You can change assistants though. Special teams and goaltending are usually handled by the lieutenants. Quenneville was asked if there would be any changes to his staff, especially due to the porous nature of their special teams play.
“All year long both coaches [Mike Haviland and Mike Kitchen] had a chance to be on both units, stints on the power play and penalty kill,” Quenneville responded. “At the end of the day we’re all sharing and talking in personnel options as far as execution as well. The power play was a sore point this year. Our penalty kill wasn’t much better when you look at the standings at the end of the year. Special teams can be a differential in games, it was in the last series. We have to be better.”
No one is questioning that but Quenneville never answered the question if changes to his coaching staff were imminent. Bowman left it up to him.
Some of Bowman’s harshest comments of the day were directed at the special teams.
“The results speak for themselves,” Bowman said. “They were a huge disappointment this year. It’s unacceptable to have the caliber of players we have and not have it work. Ultimately we have to improve that.”
And Quenneville was just as straightforward about his thinking for next year.
“Going forward it will be a point of emphasis,” Quenneville said. “Don’t expect to be on the power play, earn your right to be on the power play.”
The same should go for the Hawks’ penalty killing. Quenneville admitted his stars might not be the right ones to be killing penalties.
“Maybe the guys we do use on special teams ... you might say we work them up too much or they get too much ice time,” he said. “Committed to blocking shots or denying lanes makes you more effective as team…You can get guys to do whatever it takes to kill a penalty however we want to kill it and if guys aren’t willing to commit to doing what we want to do I think going forward someone else will get a chance. Whether it’s blocking a shot or denying a shot or laying down in front of a shot, that’s what it’s all about.”
The only question is why did it take 88 games for Quenneville and even Bowman to talk this tough about the special teams? Maybe they were doing it privately but players don’t really feel the heat until a coach is calling them out publicly. Hawks’ fans can only hope next year will be different because when it comes to the Hawks’ power play and penalty killing units, it can’t get much worse.