Since returning from his relatively active COVID-19 quarantine, Carpenter has enjoyed arguably his best stretch of hockey since joining the Hawks.
During his two weeks in February with COVID-19, Ryan Carpenter found a silver lining to his sensory loss:
He couldn’t “smell my boy’s poopy diapers.”
But the Blackhawks forward’s two sons — 1-year-old Brock and 3-year-old Beau — still kept him busy, preventing him from resting for 14 days without much exercise like NHL doctors recommend.
“I don’t know if I was supposed to, but I [rode] a stationary bike on my own,” Carpenter said. “Maybe it’s [because of] the kids, too…I wasn’t able to sit around on the couch all day. I know we weren’t really able to leave our apartment until our quarantine was up, but I was still pretty active throughout the day.”
A few weeks later, Carpenter’s relatively exercise-laden quarantine has transitioned into one of his best stretches of hockey since signing with the Hawks in 2019.
The 30-year-old Floridian returned to the Hawks’ lineup Feb. 17, just four days after his activation from the COVID-19 list — much faster than Adam Boqvist or Lucas Wallmark did.
In the six games since, Carpenter — typically a defense-first fourth-line forward — has grown into a significantly more offensive role, including on the Hawks’ first power play unit.
That paid off Sunday against the Red Wings, when Carpenter recorded the first two-goal night of his 216-game NHL career. After scoring just three times in 69 games last season, Carpenter has three in 15 games this season.
“I probably tied my goals from last year already, but it’s not saying much,” Carpenter said. “But I came into this season having a simpler mindset. It helps me on the power play tonight.
“Sometimes goals aren’t always pretty: you just found a way to get it, like that [first] goal that went off somebody and in. So I’m working hard, simplifying my game, not being too cute and just being around the net — that’s where a lot of the goals are scored.”
Carpenter is attempting more shots this season than last (11.8 attempts per 60 minutes, up from 7.9 last year), being more accurate with those attempts (67% are on goal, up from 63%) and forcing goaltenders to spit out rebounds three times more often.
He’s also produced 9.0 scoring chances per 60 minutes, up from 5.4 last year. And his increased offensive aggressiveness hasn’t sacrificed his defensive stoutness; he still ranks top three on the Hawks in both main possession proxy stats.
His new power play role is an even stranger experience, given that he’d enjoyed only 40 minutes of power-play time in his entire career prior to 2021.
But Carpenter texted with Andrew Shaw, who’d been very effective in the same rover spot within the Hawks’ 1-3-1 formation before his concussion, to get “some pointers.”
“I know my role here up to this point has just been more of a depth guy, a good penalty killer,” Carpenter said. “But whatever the coaches ask me, I’m not going to say, ‘No, I don’t want to go out there.’ I’d love to be on the power play.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton has been pleased so far.
“He’s there to get pucks back and support and be the right-handed option in the middle, and he’s been doing that,” Colliton said Sunday. “We broke pressure well tonight, we got the puck back, and it was a good finish [by Ryan].”
Carpenter is likely just a short-term power-play option until the Hawks figure out something better. His five-on-five play is not about to make him a Richard Trophy candidate, either: despite his three goals, he’s still seeking his first assist of the season.
For now, though, Carpenter’s offensive evolution has been both substantial and impactful.
And he can thank his tireless toddlers for that.