Through Wednesday night’s games, the Blackhawks have the top power play in the NHL, converting 25.6 percent of their opportunities. Throughout the season, in a dramatic change from the 2009-10 season, the Hawks have been able to create offense on their power play and convert their advantages into points on the scoreboard.
However, now might be the time to mess with a good thing.
Duncan Keith, the primary power play quarterback on the Blackhawks’ blue line, is skating the second-most minutes per game (26:42) in the NHL. There is no questioning how effective Keith has been on the power play – he has 14 of his 29 points on the power play – but the ice time he’s skating is the highest of his career.
As the Hawks saw early in the season when Brian Campbell missed October due to injury, Keith is closest to his Norris Trophy-winning excellence when he’s afforded an occasional break from the action.
Right now, Keith is averaging the most ice time per game with a man advantage (3:01) on the Blackhawks, and even Brent Seabrook has brought his heavy shot to increase PP time. Keith also leads the team in short-handed ice time per game (2:58), and his average of 57 seconds per shift is tied for the fifth highest in the NHL.
The point is, Keith is playing an overwhelming workload right now for the Hawks. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks continue to struggle killing penalties, killing only 80 percent in the 2011 calendar year (which is still an increase).
There is a potential solution on the Hawks roster: Nick Leddy.
Leddy, still a teenager, is a smooth skater with a nice shot from the point, which he displayed in scoring his second career goal against Columbus. Before he was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Wild in 2009, he noted that the two defensemen he modeled his game after most were Keith and Campbell; less than a year later he would be traded to Chicago, and has since joined his two role models on the NHL roster.
All indications are that Leddy has the tools to become a very good NHL defenseman, and is on his way to becoming a key part of the Blackhawks rotation. Now, as the schedule gets busy and the season sprints towards the finish line, it is time for coach Joel Quenneville to give Leddy a shot at the point on the power play.
It could be very easy for the Hawks to start getting Leddy experience without opening themselves up for dreaded short-handed goal opportunities.
Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are both premier two-way forwards that also play a big part in the Hawks’ power play. Patrick Sharp is also a solid defensive forward who, often times, plays on the blue line with Keith. By skating Leddy with strong two-way forwards, the likelihood that he would be exposed would be minimized.
Oh, and his shot would lead to more opportunities on tips and rebounds for Toews and Hossa hovering around the net.
By getting Leddy on the ice for more power play time, the Hawks would not only allow Keith to focus more of his energy on killing penalties, but also preserve his legs for the playoffs. It would also help the Blackhawks begin making decisions about their future by beginning the future with Leddy as a point man.