by PuckStopsHere on 01/09/14 at 12:00 AM ET
I am always on the lookout for a strategy that one team employs but no other NHL team follows - at least not to the same level. The Chicago Blackhawks are using zone starts to set their lineups more so than any other team in the NHL. They have a group of players who are used as exclusively as possible for shifts that start in the offensive zone and another group of players who are used as exclusively as possible for shifts that start in the defensive zone. If this is done properly, the offensive players will maximize their chances of scoring by starting in the offensive zone and the best shutdown players will prevent scoring opportunities for their opponents in the defensive zone.
The top player in the NHL by offensive zone start percentage is Bryan Bickell. Brandon Pirri is third in the league. Patrick Kane is sixth in the league. Michal Rozsival is ninth and Andrew Shaw is eleventh. Five of the top eleven players by offensive zone starts are Chicago Blackhawks. This group of players is not a group of star players. Patrick Kane is a star, but the others are not. Most of the biggest Chicago stars will have so many shifts that their zone starts cannot be as extreme. The majority of players in this group are players who have more offensive ability than defensive and are hence used in roles to maximize their skills.
On the defensive zone start side, the top three players in the league are Brandon Bollig, Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger. These are players who are trusted in defensive shutdown situations by the Blackhawks.
Chicago uses zone starts to maximize the effectiveness of their role players. They have players who are used in offensive situations as much as possible and other players used in defensive situations as much as possible. Most of the core players on the Blackhawks are used in all situations to maximize their ice time. The exception to this is Patrick Kane, who is their top scorer and not as strong defensively as their other core players. Hence he is used in as offensive a role as possible. This is a strategy used by Chicago with success and it appears to help - at least the Blackhawks have been quite successful.
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