“[Shaw] gets pucks back and he’s willing to get to the net,” Jeremy Colliton said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with in the past, since I’ve been here anyway.”
Andrew Shaw was a staple on the Blackhawks’ top power-play unit back in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
His ice time and usage on the man advantage had declined over the past half-decade, however, including his time with the Canadiens and return to Chicago last year.
Now, Shaw is back on the top unit and adding a much-needed scrappy element that the unit has missed throughout coach Jeremy Colliton’s tenure.
“He gets pucks back and he’s willing to get to the net,” Colliton said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with in the past, since I’ve been here anyway, getting pucks back and extending the zone time so we don’t have to break out two or three times. Even off a lost faceoff, just finding a way to stop the kill from clearing it [is important].”
Shaw’s impacts on the power play have come from a different position than he filled in the past, too.
Instead of using him as a net-front guy like the Canadiens and Joel Quenneville-led Hawks normally did, Colliton has instead stationed Shaw in the slot — not as a primary shooting threat, like most slot guys in other teams’ power-play setups, but as a roaming retriever.
His location in the middle of the zone gives him opportunities to track down rebounds and engage opposing penalty killers in puck battles in all corners of the zone, rather than simply around the net.
Shaw said the transition from net-front to the slot was a “little bit of an adjustment” but he feels he’s done “really well” there.”
“[I’m] being a support, being a threat to shoot the puck and sustaining pucks, getting them back, making sure we can have that zone time,” he said. “A tired penalty kill makes mistakes, and that’s when we’re going to capitalize. Just got to keep working for them, competing for them and being there for them.”
All three of the Hawks’ currently injured forwards — Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander — were deployed often last season on the Hawks’ meager 28th-ranked power play. Toews and Dach saw a lot of time in the slot and net-front roles, and their absences have forced Colliton to turn to the likes of Shaw, Dylan Strome and Pius Suter to fill those gaps.
In the slot, Shaw is still close enough to the blue paint to head there when necessary, either to temporarily replace Strome — the top unit’s current net-front guy — or when a rebound pops loose in the lower slot.
Shaw and Strome’s gritty work down low has given Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat plenty of time and space on the wings, and they’ve been characteristically dangerous there. As a result, the Hawks have begun this season 5-for-12 on the power play.
Shaw himself hasn’t directly gotten in on the scoring yet, but Colliton sees him as a sneaky possibility in the future, especially if opponents start keying more on DeBrincat.
“[He] has some touch, too — he’s shown he can score in the past,” Colliton said. “We haven’t hit the slot a ton in the first few games, but it’s certainly a good option for us.”
The unexpected power-play success has merely added to an overall happy time for Shaw, who worked through more than a year of concussion symptoms to return for the 2021 season.
Mindful that one more unfortunate hit could end his career, he’s utilized new self-protection techniques through this season-opening road trip. Overall, though, Shaw’s return to NHL competition has gone about as smoothly as he could’ve imagined.
“Being away from the game, it’s tough to jump in and have your timing perfect,” he said. “Whether it’s supporting your teammates or getting in on pucks, it took a little time to get there.
“[But] I’ve felt pretty good. My energy’s there. Timing was off the first game, but I think I figured it out.”