To begin the 2011-12 season, the Chicago Blackhawks have continued to use their elite skill to draw penalties. In four games, the Hawks have drawn 17 penalties, but have only scored two goals. For the non-math majors out there, the Hawks are converting 11.8 percent. That’s bad.
But there might be an easy way to remedy the situation in-house. His name: Bryan Bickell.
Last year, in 78 games, Bickell skated less than a minute per night with a man advantage (0:55). In four games this year, Bickell is seeing 1:53 per game on the power play.
In the Blackhawks two wins, Bickell has skated 2:50 (vs. Dallas) and 2:01 (vs. Winnipeg). In the two losses he skated 12 seconds in Dallas and 2:29 against Boston on Saturday night. Based on his three consecutive games with more than two minutes skated on the power play, it appears that Bickell is starting to be more involved.
But it’s where Bickell is skating that should be up for discussion.
Listed at 6’4 and 223 pounds, Bickell presents one of the bigger bodies on the Blackhawks roster. When skating with a man advantage, the obvious use for a guy that big is sticking his rear end in front of the net and providing a screen for the snipers outside the paint.
The Blackhawks have some other bigger bodies on the roster that can perform in that role, though. Andrew Brunette’s goal in the home opener is a great example of what he can do around the net (see video). Jonathan Toews can also provide an effective screen, and Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo have experience chipping pucks in around the net as well.
One of Bickell’s best assets is his wrist shot; he has an under rated cannon that could be utilized more.
The Blackhawks coaches have used Brent Seabrook on the point primarily because he has the hardest shot on the roster. The trouble with that, though, is that Seabrook is also asked to be a primary penalty killer. So far this year, Seabrook is averaging 3:00 on penalty kill and 3:12 on power play coverage. His work short-handed is only second behind team-leading Niklas Hjalmarsson so far this year.
Last year, Seabrook took a beating. He was one of two defensemen in the league to eclipse 200 hits and 150 blocked shots while skating a career-high 24:23 per night.
While there are options to help cut back on Seabrook’s ice time on the penalty kill (Sean O’Donnell, Steve Montador, Sami Lepisto), his work on that unit is essential to the team’s success. The veteran depth added this summer should be allowing the coaching staff to get Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy more time in 5-on-5 situations and on the power play.
Using Bickell on the point on the power play could not only help cut back the number of minutes Seabrook is skating on special teams, but it would also take advantage of his powerful shot.
His game is developing well on the Hawks’ third line with Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik this year, and he’s showing a much higher hockey IQ than most fans assumed he had coming into this year. On the checking line, he has certainly displayed enough defensive ability and understanding to responsibly cover the back end on the power play next to Keith or Leddy.
It might be time to see how Bickell performs away from the net when the Hawks get an advantage.