DALLAS — The Blackhawks have recently tried a five-forward arrangement on their top power-play unit for the first time in recent memory.
The approach eschews defensemen altogether to make forward Philipp Kurashev the fifth man in the group, accompanying Patrick Kane, Max Domi, Jonathan Toews and Taylor Raddysh. Kurashev may be slightly more defensively responsible than the other four, but he’s nonetheless primarily there to boost the offensive threat level.
“Early in the power plays, if we’re making strong plays at the top and not being risky [by attempting seam passes] too much…we don’t have to worry about it,” coach Luke Richardson said.
The idea is that five forwards are more interchangeable from position to position, allowing the Hawks to establish more continuous player movement — in addition to puck movement — that will eventually spread apart and open up opposing penalty kills. There’s an obvious risk factor if the ‘PK’ produces a counterattack, though.
“Sometimes you have to be a little more conscious before they have the puck,” he said. “If Kane’s in the corner and he looks like he’s cornered and there’s no out, the other guy — Kurashev or Domi — may have to take a step back out of the blue line, just in case. We discuss that stuff, just to be aware.”
Richardson only intends to use the five-forward setup during the first minute of each power play, opting to deploy not one but two defensemen on the second ‘PP’ unit. Seth Jones easing back to full strength might end the experiment soon anyway.
Entering Wednesday, the Hawks’ power play had regressed toward the middle of the pack with a 21.4% conversion rate — ranking 14th in the NHL — after going 3-for-23 over their last eight games. They ranked a lowly 28th in scoring chances per minute.
Forward Jujhar Khaira has been a bright spot lately. He entered Wednesday having recorded points in two of his last three games — including a goal Sunday against the Penguins — after tallying just four points in his first 39 games as a Hawk. He has been bumped up to the third line next to Jason Dickinson.
He said this is the best he has felt, confidence-wise, since his major concussion last December.
“It’s trending up,” he said. “I’m feeling more comfortable out there skating the puck and trying to create more offense.”