The Blackhawks will make plenty of mistakes this season. Players will be in the wrong place, cover the wrong man, choose the wrong option with the puck or even mess up while trying to do the right thing. That’s inevitable.
But new coach Luke Richardson has focused in training camp on teaching his systems — and breaking down the individual assignments in his systems –in such a way that at least every Hawks player knows, in theory, what he should do in any given situation.
Indeed, players have frequently mentioned how straightforward and easy-to-understand Richardson’s coaching has been.
“It really is awesome,” Riley Stillman said. “When you know, coming to the rink, exactly what your role is and what your job is, it takes the pressure off trying to find out what to do or how to be noticed. When your job is laid out for you and all you have to do is do your job, it helps everybody. Luke has done a great job with that.”
Added MacKenzie Entwistle: “As a player, that’s all you can ask: knowing what your job is. Then, if there’s a breakdown, it’s on you. It’s nice knowing the structure of each zone, seeing it on video and then actually executing it out there.”
In the defensive zone, Richardson is implementing a “box-plus-one” system similar to a zone. On the penalty kill, he has dialed up the Hawks’ aggressiveness, particularly on the forecheck. And in the neutral zone, he wants the Hawks going quickly and moving the puck north-south without overcomplicating things.
When players don’t immediately grasp concepts, they’ve been empowered to speak up and create dialogue, which has also helped it all sink in faster.
“We made them feel comfortable to ask questions,” Richardson said. “‘It’s not just you. There are probably six other people that want to ask the same question, so ask it.’ We have the technology now where we can show the video and laser pointers and draw on screen where it’s very clear.”
On Wednesday morning, for example, Richardson began the Hawks’ video session reviewing three plays from Tuesday’s preseason game against the Blues.
The first two videos came from a sloppy start to the second period. During the first shift, Patrick Kane failed to corral a pass from Alex Vlasic, causing the puck to get tied up in a defensive-zone board battle. Max Domi won the battle, but promptly turned the puck over to Blues forward Jordan Kyrou, forcing Petr Mrazek to have to sweep away a scoring chance.
During the next shift, Andreas Athanasiou received a breakout pass from Connor Murphy. But instead of turning up-ice,he curled east-west at the defensive blue line and attempted an ill-advised drop pass to Murphy that Blues forward Klim Kostin intercepted, leading to another scoring chance.
Richardson followed those negative videos with a positive clip from later in the period, though.
In it, Kevin Korchinski made a clever backhand breakout pass to Domi. The play was briefly broken up but Domi grabbed the puck back, Kane led a transition attack down the wing, Korchinski followed the play and crashed the net and Kane fed Korchinski for a scoring chance.
“We just don’t have to be risky to create,” Richardson explained. “Especially a line like that, they’re good enough and fast enough. They’re going to create without being risky.
“It’s just [about] treating everybody the same. The young guys see it [as], ‘Oh, I can show a clip of our No. 1 line last night making a mistake or a poor decision.’ … That’s just honest. It’s not centering anybody out. It’s just what happened in the game. And then going from there, everybody can take constructive criticism evenly. I think that makes us a team.”