Blackhawks Smörgåsbord


Just some quick graphs and thoughts from the weekend.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

Keep them lines a-rollin’, Rawhide. Don’t try to understand them…

A stark difference so far this year has been the Chicago Blackhawks’ ability to roll four forward lines – and even more importantly, three defensive pairings. That wasn’t the case last season and it has always been my belief that this was the primary reason for a majority of the collapses we saw during 3rd periods. This year the Hawks lead the league in 3rd period point differential, by both number of goals and by percentage of GF/GA.

The difference is so striking from last season, that I’m extremely confused when I see or hear fans try to equate this season with last year. In 2010-11, the Hawks actually led the entire league in goal differential during the 1st and 2nd periods combined. They even outperformed the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks in the first two periods. Then, as this chart shows, they apparently ran out of gas in the 3rd.

Statistics show that a player’s performance drops drastically when forced to stay out on the ice beyond a normal shift length. Last year, Quenneville didn’t trust his bottom line forwards or defenders enough to play in 3rd periods of tight games. I understand Quenneville’s thought process here, but two things: 1) maybe he should’ve put more trust in the guys that got him there (led the league in the first 2 periods), and 2) since studies have shown that player performance drops off when overplayed, he probably shot himself in the foot with his strategy of double-shifting and overplaying key players during 3rd periods. I doubt Q will change his mindset, so let’s just hope he continues to feel comfortable with all his lines.

During Saturday night’s shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche the Hawks outscored the Avs 3-1 in the final 21 minutes of regulation. That is not a 3rd period collapse. Sure, 2 points would have been nice…

And let’s not start hitting the panic button regarding the shootout – it’s the freakin’ shootout! 0-2 is nothing to worry about – yet. Most teams end up with a shootout record very close to 50%. On the other hand, there are always a few statistical anomalies, like the LA Kings’ 10-2 SO record last year. If they go 6-6 instead, they not only fall below the Hawks – they fall below Dallas, finish dead last in the Pacific Division, and miss the playoffs all together. The Blackhawks just need to avoid being on the opposite end of that bell curve. With their talent, they should be fine.

As you can see from the charts below, Coach Quenneville has been able to roll all four forward lines, with the top three getting very even ice time and the 4th line jumping in every 2nd rotation. Notice that Kane’s line, if you go by EV TOI, has been the Blackhawks’ 1st line. In reality, with Toews-Sharp and Kane-Hossa paired, you have two top lines until a 3rd forward steps up on one of those lines or is traded for. Stan Bowman definitely should be working the phones early this year.

Below is the Even Strength TOI for the defensive pairs. Paired with Leddy, Keith’s EV TOI has decreased since last year by almost a full minute. The 3rd pairing has averaged over 14 minutes of EV TOI. That’s better than the league average for 3rd pairs. Money well spent?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Let’s take a look at the screencaps for three Avs’ goals from Saturday night.

16:09 of the 1st Period, Goal Scorer: Stastny

Hawks are in excellent position here. Keith has the crease, O’Donnell is in the corner, Bolland is on the puck carrier, Bickell is taking away the pass along the boards, and Frolik has cheated over to give strong side support.

O’Donnell, who was previously below the goal line, is now above the hash marks and chasing the puck, leaving Bolland to cover two Avs forwards on the backside.

O’Donnell continues into the high slot. Since O’Donnell had previously followed the puck behind the net to Keith’s side, Keith likely assumes that OD is protecting the backside and therefore doesn’t notice or pick up Stastny. Although Bolland would normally rotate to the high slot, OD is already there, so he needs to offer support down low, but doesn’t.

As a result, Stastny and Jones are left uncovered in front of Crawford. Stastny deflects the shot from Quincey past Crawford. Both Stastny and Jones are in position for an easy put back if Crow makes the initial save.

Unless O’Donnell was told to shadow Hejduk (he completely circles the ice with him on this play), which I highly doubt, then he’s the main culprit here. But Keith and Bolland need to make that adjustment.

13:25 of the 2nd Period, Goal Scorer: Landeskog

This play starts out the same as the previous goal, but O’Donnell is on the puck carrier McLeod and Toews is in position to take away the pass around the boards.

Toes misses the interception. Even though the pass has already been made, OD continues to follow McLeod up the boards and out of position. Landeskog see the opening and heads towards the net.

OD is now well above the hash marks. Why? So he can make a hit on McLeod. Although this goal is not “on” OD, it’s a good example of a player being out of position to make an unnecessary hit. The Hawks still have good coverage here.

The dotted red line is Montador’s previous spot on the ice. As Edzo pointed out during the game, he can’t give away his position like that. Why a physical veteran defender would give way to a rookie forward is beyond me. Monty not only gives Landeskog a free path to the net, but he also interferes with Crawford’s ability to challenge the pass or shot.

To Landeskog’s credit, he stick checks both Brunette and Montador on the way to the net, and O’Reilly makes a beautiful hard pass right on Landeskog’s stick. But if Monty doesn’t back into the crease, this goal likely doesn’t happen.

18:12 of the 3rd Period, Goal Scorer: Landeskog

I already broke down this goal at on Saturday night, but we’ll look it again here.

All’s fine so far. Keith is challenging the puck carrier, while Brunette backchecks him. Landeskog is right in front of Stalberg. He’s the only Blackhawks player who can see him breaking for the net.

Stalberg for some unknown reason turns away from Landeskog. Brunette is no longer backchecking the puck, so he needs to assume zone responsibility. First forward back, he must guard the slot with both defenders working the puck toward the boards. He doesn’t.

2-8-15 triple team the puck. Keith has overplayed his position. Brunette shouldn’t be over there, period. Leddy needs to see this and make the adjustment, but doesn’t. Stalberg and Toews are spectating, although there’s not much Toews can do at this point.

Total breakdown. Although many want to blame Keith for this goal, even if he doesn’t overplay the puck, there’s no way he can pick up the charging Landeskog in time. The responsible has to fall on Leddy, Stalberg, and a bit on Brunette. If your key concept for a defenseman is that no one gets behind you, then Leddy dropped the ball here. And if you find lazy defense to be criminal, then Stalberg belongs in Q’s jailhouse after this effort, or lack thereof.

This is why Stalberg often finds himself on the 4th line even though he has the physical gifts to be a top line forward. Unfortunately Coach Queneville’s choices at 2LW are limited, so we’ll see who gets the call tonight.

Saturday night was the first time the Hawks gave up more than 2 goals with Crawford in net. But 4 goals when none of them are the fault of your goaltender is way too many, even if one (the deflection off of Seabrook) was of the unlucky variety. When your goalie ends up with a .833 Sv% in a game where he faced only 23 shots during regulation, it’s a sign of good overall defense with a few lapses. It was good to hear Quenneville pull out the whip after the loss, lessening the chance of this becoming an epidemic.

Hawks take on the Anaheim Ducks (4-3-0) tonight at the United Center. The Ducks dropped their last two at home after winning four in a row. Chicago will have to tighten up their defense, as Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller is 6-3-1 with a 2.13 goals-against average against them. Crawford is 3-3-0 with a 1.66 GAA in six starts against the Ducks, and allowed 2 or less goals in each of the last four matchups.

John Schultz
Follow me on Twitter @ChiNativeSon