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WINNIPEG, Manitoba — As the Blackhawks search for solutions in the midst of another dreadful month, Jonathan Toews knows one thing that would help.
More tips and deflections in front of the net.
“If you watch the playoffs or you watch the tough games of the year, where teams are really competing, playing that playoff-style hockey to try to get points and sneak into the playoffs, it’s how you score goals,” Toews said this week. “You’ve got to have guys to the net, you’ve got to get shots, you’ve got to get tips, rebounds, second efforts.”
Any mention of the subject lights a fire in the captain’s eyes. It’s an aspect of offense that has always come naturally for him, and he remains very good at it, leading the Hawks with 11 shots on goal through tips and deflections.
But for the rest of the team, it’s a major weakness. Brandon Saad is second with nine such shots on goal; David Kampf has eight; no one else has more than five.
In fact, the Hawks rank last in the NHL in percentage of shots on goal that have come off tips and deflections at just 5.1 percent.
When Toews hears that, he perks up even more.
“That’s a big a reason why I keep beating this, [because] we’ve got to generate way more in that area if we want to score five-on-five,” he said. “It’s pretty clear to see.”
Toews challenged the entire locker room before Sunday’s game against the Wild to improve in that category, asking the forwards to get to dirty areas with their head up and the defensemen to focus on getting point shots through cleanly to their intended tip men.
And it worked. The Hawks generated two goals off deflections, just their eighth and ninth such goals this season, when Connor Murphy unleashed sneaky wristers from the blue line. One glanced off Kampf’s stick and in; the other hit either Saad or Dominik Kubalik, or perhaps both, and became the winning goal.
“It seemed like guys were actually fighting over that space in front of the net to try to get it,” Murphy said Sunday. “It almost seemed like that last one tipped off [Kubalik] and Saader. They were battling for that one.”
Yet on Wednesday against the Avalanche and Thursday against the Jets, the Hawks reverted to their old ways and produced little commotion in front of Pavel Francouz and Connor Hellebuyck. Only one of their combined 64 shots on goal in the two contests came off tips and deflections.
“We don’t give ourselves an opportunity to get a bounce,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Wednesday. “[The Avalanche’s] first goal, they had someone at the net, they got a puck through, it’s in. You leave a lot on the table offensively when you’re not doing those things.”
Those games are indicative of how the season has gone. Despite ranking 16th in shooting percentage off tips and deflections, the Hawks are 26th in goals that come from tips and deflections.
Toews hopes they can finally change that soon.
“If we want to score more goals, we’re not going to get it from the perimeter, beating goalies with clean shots,” he said. “Nice to see our forwards get the puck to shooting areas for our defensemen, and nice to see our defensemen finding lanes, and then thirdly, nice to see guys getting sticks on pucks and going to the net and not letting goaltenders see the puck. That’s going to be huge for us.”