Blackhawks News

Tale of two defenses in one year’s time

By Jeffrey Bartl

I had planned to come home and write this anyway, but Chris Kuc’s story regarding the Blackhawks’ gap control gave me even more reason.

The problem I have with this article isn’t that it was written, but more so in the way it was written and where the focus of the story lies. The Blackhawks have always emphasized controlling the gap and taking away opponents’ easy entries into the offensive zone. They’re not just starting to put more time into practicing it, it’s simply that they’re doing it better over the past two games.

The story seems to be written as if this is a new thing the ‘Hawks are becoming good at doing. When a topic like this comes up, there’s no question it has to be compared to the way it was done during a championship campaign.

Last season,  Duncan Keith won the Norris Trophy disrupting zone entries.  Brent Seabrook did a hell of a job at this as well.  Brian Campbell and  Niklas Hjalmarrson were solid at the blue line, and even  Brent Sopel played his part when he wasn’t getting caught flat-footed, though his strengths blossomed when the puck had already been in the zone.

Once again, it’s not a matter of the ‘Hawks just starting to talk about this. I don’t attend practices or hang out in the locker or film rooms, but I can put in a safe guess this has been a topic of discussion all year. The Blackhawks simply aren’t going to forget one of their main strengths which helped them win the Stanley Cup.

If a defensive unit — and back-checking forwards — can disrupt the opposition’s entry into the zone and force more dumps than controlled entries, the game can become a battle for the puck along the boards — another thing the ‘Hawks excelled at winning last season. More dumps, more board battles and less controlled entries leads to fewer shots for the opponent, simply because the offense has difficulty getting into a rhythm and setting up its offense.

Through 35 games last season, Blackhawks goaltenders faced 842 shots on goal. This season? 1,016. That’s a whopping difference of 174 shots, which averages out to roughly five more shots per game. While the latter stat may seem minuscule, remember it only takes one shot to put the puck in the net — as simple and stupid and obvious as that may sound to you.

More statistics after the jump


For those still grabbing the porcelain god over the decision to let  Antti Niemi walk and sign  Marty Turco, here’s a stat. In his first 17 starts last season, Niemi faced 30 or more shots only six times, never saw 40 and saw 20 or less four times.

Turco has faced 30 or more nine times, 40 twice and less than 20 twice when playing a full game. Needless to say, Turco is seeing a bit more work.


Disrupting the opponent’s entry also has its effects on the offense. A more controlled entry in the the Blackhawks’ zone allows the offense to set, dissect the defense and control the puck for longer periods of time. How much have we groaned at the oppositions’ sustained offensive attack while the ‘Hawks haven’t been able to clear? More often than not you’ll find the offense had a clean entry and possibly got in a shot on goal before grabbing a rebound and setting the offense.

Furthermore, the amount of breakaway chances and odd-man rushes for the opponents this season have seemed to vastly outnumber the amount at this point last season.

What this does is take away from the Blackhawks’ offensive opportunities and puck possession, which the ‘Hawks thrived on controlling night in and night out on their way to winning the Cup.

Through 35 games in the Cup year, the Blackhawks put 1,168 shots on goal. This season? 1,128. That’s a difference of 40 shots, which is just over one less shot per game. Considering that stat, the ‘Hawks have lost nine games this season by one goal, counting shootout losses. Not saying the extra scoring chance leads to a goal, but it sure as hell wouldn’t hurt.

Fact is, the difference with this year’s ‘Hawks team which has effected wins and losses lies in the disparity between scoring chances for and against. Sometimes, that seems obvious. But digging deeper, it’s noticeable the Blackhawks haven’t been as successful with their aggressive defense this season as they were last.

And even beyond that, the oppositions’ scoring chances have been much better opportunities given the amount of sustained attacks and solid shifts against the Blackhawks defense this season compared to last. The opponents more often than not have been controlling the puck in the ‘Hawks zone rather than the other way around.

Hopefully the success of shutting down two top contenders carries over into tonight against Nashville, which thrives on taking advantage of mistakes and setting up its offense.

We’ll find out in a few hours.

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