What’s going on with the Blackhawks?
After a disappointing finish to last season, the Blackhawks are looking sluggish to start the 2018 campaign. After a hot start, they have lost three of the last four games. Typically a fixture on top of the Central Division they currently sit in fifth place with fourteen points and only two points out of last place. Fortunately for the team, all division rivals are sitting with around 14 points as well, and have some pretty hefty issues of their own. The positives include some real solid goaltending overall and plus-seven goal differential. The negatives, however, are slowly beginning to outweigh the positives.
Here are some of the positives and negatives contributing to where the Blackhawks currently stand:
Goaltending: Corey Crawford at the age of 32 is having the best year of his career. The win-loss results are not currently indicative of his performance. Crawford sports an unreal .941 save percentage and 1.81 goals against average. The backup Anton Forsberg is not showing the same sign of success. In three games Forsberg has given up eleven goals and has looked at times lost. His .426 save percentage sits slightly above his career average of 4.07. Despite Forsberg’s performance, the team is currently fourth in the Western Conference with a plus-seven goal differential. Overall the goaltending is an early season success, and as the team gels defensively specifically Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith getting back to themselves, this will continue to help the team drive success.
First line: The first line for the Hawks has consisted of Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews, and Alex Debrincat. Combined the three are a plus ten goal differential. Toews continues to be a solid two-way player. Unlike his usual results his possession numbers, this year are rather pedestrian. He currently has a 51.1% Corsi and a 48.2% Fenwick. Both are well below his career averages. Debrincats possession numbers have been terrible for a first liner as he sits at a 46.9% Corsi and 44% Fenwick. Panik actually has solid possession numbers as he sports a 54% Corsi and 51% Fenwick. Overall the first line has been average but needs to be much better if the team will improve on their current record. Based on the rather pedestrian possession numbers, line changes will be incoming for this top line.
Second line: Hit or miss describes this second line for the Hawks. Centered by Nick Schmaltz the line also includes Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad. You would expect firepower from this line based on the names alone. Saad was the centerpiece of the mega-deal the team made in the offseason and Patrick Kane is likely the best American hockey player on the planet. Schmaltz missed four games earlier in the season, and this line took a big hit. He seems to be what keeps this line moving forward, the youngster sports soft hands and excellent on-ice vision. His possession numbers are about average. The disparity for his linemates is really interesting as Brandon Saad is amongst the team leaders for possession while Patrick Kane is in the bottom third for Corsi and Fenwick percentages. This line should be the driving force behind the team’s success, it currently is not. The team needs Patrick Kane to improve upon his current zero plus-minus and needs Brandon Saad to be better defensively.
Bottom lines: Outside of the recent resurgence of Artem Anisimov and the real solid early season performance of Ryan Hartman the bottom two lines have left much to be desired. Although Hartman who is second on the team with ten points has atrocious possession numbers. The feel-good story of Patrick Sharp returning to the team has not yielded much success as he sits at a minus 5 plus-minus and bottom ten percent possession numbers. The third line includes Artem Anisimov, John Hayden, and Patrick Sharp, it has been the worst line on the team this season. They sport a combined plus three goal differential and bottom twenty % possession numbers. The fourth line outside of Ryan Hartman has also been an issue for the team. Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels only have two goals between the two of them. If the team plans on making a run at the playoffs again this season, the bottom two lines will need to be more consistent and have better possession numbers.
Special teams: In order to be more potent offensively the team needs to perform better on the power play. As is the norm for this team over the past several years the team has struggled on the power play. Far too often the team ends up with only one or two shots on goal during an entire power play. The league average for power play execution is just over 19%, the Hawks currently sit at 13.5%. The penalty kill is slightly above average, preventing goals on 83% of penalties. Both need to be better if the team is going to make a run towards the playoffs.
Overall the Blackhawks play has been incredibly inconsistent. At times the team has looked like a powerhouse team both offensively and defensively. At other points, the team has looked inept. Against defensively stout teams, the Blackhawks have not been able to put anything together offensively and have struggled to maintain possession. They have also struggled mightily versus teams that sport speed and skilled wingers.