Jan 12, 2014 – Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks; Toews, Hossa, and Sharp. Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
We are now at the halfway point of the Olympic break, with the Gold Medal Game just one week from today! Some of us are excited enough by the prospect of another USA-Canada match up, while others are just looking forward to the end of the Olympics already, and the return of the Blackhawks.
Regardless of your perspective on the winding down of the Games, we still have some time to give the Blackhawks another report card in one of the following four areas: goaltending, offense, defense, and coaching. The grades were logged on goaltending already, so today we will look at offense.
First, let’s look at some hard numbers. Even though the Blackhawks currently sit in third place in overall NHL standings at the break, they still lead the league in total Goals For at 202, with a 13-goal lead over the next team in that stat (Blues). Granted, the Blackhawks have three games in hand, but even their goals for per game figure is higher: 3.37 vs. 3.32.
Let’s also consider the shots on goal. Even when they aren’t playing their best, the Blackhawks nonetheless tend to control the puck quite a bit and pepper the opposing team’s goalies with tons of shots. As of now, they are one SOG shy of 2000. Only one team has more: Sharks have 2061, but they also have a game in hand.
Granted, not all of the shots are quality chances, and rebounding can be an issue. When the Blackhawks are outshooting their opponents, their win percentage is only .571, which puts them 9th in the league. Perhaps ironically, the win percentage when we are being outshot is slightly higher, at .611. On the other hand, the power play compared to last season has significantly improved, currently at 22.1% (third place behind the Penguins and the Maple Leafs) compared to last season’s meager 16.7% (19th in the league).
Even though the Blackhawks seem to be in a good spot generally speaking, one area that could use a significant amount of improvement is their play in overtime. You might say, “Well, that’s obvious!” It is, but I’m specifically referring to the offense here. They have played 19 OT periods without scoring once. 13 of those games have gone to the shootout, where they sometimes manage to eke out a win, though they are well under .500 there.
Clearly, the Blackhawks would be head and shoulders above the rest of the NHL in the standings, or at the very least in a comfortable lead, if only they could solve the overtime riddle. So far, no one – players and coaches alike – can quite explain what’s ailing them.
With all these ups and downs, you may be wondering why the offense gets such a high mark. To be honest, it almost was a B+, but from a holistic view they deserved a slight bump. The season started out rather well offensively, and the Blackhawks had been on a scoring rip for the most part, prior to the January slump.
When the Blackhawks reconvene in New York to face the Rangers on February 27, hopefully they will find their stride again, especially if key players have done well at the Olympics to boost morale and non-Olympians got ample rest while staying well conditioned.
Blackhawks fans, what do you think? What grade would you give the team’s offense at the Olympic break?