Power-play net presence is an interesting job description to fill. Be prepared to get hacked, whacked, pushed and pulled. Maintain your ground, but know when to move to obstruct the guy behind you. And keep that stick ready for tips, deflections and rebounds.
There’s a lot that goes into the job, and Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg have been learning it as they go this season. But to be part of the Blackhawks’ power play, which is currently ranked 13th this season after flailing at 26th in 2011-12, it’s worth it.
For Stalberg, this season marked his first real chance at power-play time. Stalberg has a bigger frame, which means it’s harder for goaltenders to see around him. But it’s still an adjustment.
“It’s actually very different on a nightly basis,” Stalberg said. “Certainly there are some nights where they’re really hacking and whacking and you take a beating. But that’s part of it. You try to do everything you can to get in front and help the team to score.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said being that net-front presence is “not an easy job.”
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“There’s definitely abuse that’s needed to travel those areas, whether he protects himself from vicious hits or gets in the lane of shots, which is the job description,” Quenneville said. “He has to be the type of person that’s willing to go there, finds a way to get there quickly and recognizes when it’s maybe time to give some outlets and retrieve some loose pucks. Shaw’s done a good job; Viktor the same thing. Both are learning as we go along, but that’s really helped our power-play look.”
Sure, considering the skill on this team, the power play could connect a little more. But it’s certainly connecting a lot more than it did last season – 42 power-play goals in 82 games in 2011-12, and 14 in 19 games so far this season. There are probably several factors that have led to increased success. The Blackhawks are taking more shots, aren’t getting as pass-happy. New assistant coach Jamie Kompon has added his touch to it.
And the net-front presence Shaw and Stalberg have provided helps, too.
Shaw has been a scrappy, physical guy throughout his young career. So taking a role that involves a lot of pushing and shoving, even if he’s getting a good deal of it himself, is fine by him. Linemate Bryan Bickell said Shaw “is like a little weed in front of the net: you just can’t pull him out.”
“I love it. I get an opportunity to be out there with some amazing skill players. I just do my job in creating havoc in front of the goalie,” said Shaw, who added there are a few tricks to maintaining position.
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“You just try to get a low center of gravity, get underneath their hips, try to tie up their sticks,” he said. “When they push, push back.”
Bickell, who has played that role in the past, said it’s all about annoying the guy in net.
“You just want to take away the goalie’s eyes,” he said. “Just be in line with the puck and be square with the defensemen. It takes away the goalie’s eyes, and that’s what you’re there for.”
Shaw and Stalberg are learning a very physical job on the fly. But that work is buying them power-play time, so it’s a job worth getting pushed and shoved around for.
“It’s screen first, tip second. And take the goaltender’s eyes away,” Shaw said. “If he can’t see them, he can’t stop them.”