Playoff Preview: Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild Forwards Matchup

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Jan 23, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Torrey Mitchell (17) battles for the puck with Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad (20) in the third period at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

In a rematch of last year’s 1st round playoff series, the Chicago Blackhawks will take on the Minnesota Wild, in the 2nd round, of the 2014 playoffs.  While the Blackhawks are considered Stanley Cup contenders, the Wild are a bit of a 2nd round surprise, as they were expected to be defeated, by the Colorado Avalanche.  

Will the Blackhawks be able to easily dispatch the Wild, for a 2nd season, in a row?

Or will the Wild be able to make it two series upsets, in a row?

We’ll find out eventually, but let’s try and make a more educated guess.

Here we will take a look at how the forwards, of the Blackhawks and Wild matchup.

Here’s how the Blackhawks forwards fared, during the regular season.

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As you can see, the Hawks’ forwards all have a Corsi For Percentage, of above 50%, which is an incredible feat.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the Hawks, as a team, are ranked 2nd, in the NHL, in Corsi For, at 55.2%.  While it is impressive, it is part of the Hawks puck-controlling style, and as you can see, they executed it very well, this season.

However, many of these numbers are skewed and a result of Head Coach Joel Quenneville’s use of matchups, and what zones, on the ice he prefers certain players, to play.  For example, you’re never going to see Patrick Kane, on the ice, for a defensive zone start, unless there was an icing.  Quenneville will have Kane start his shifts, in the offensive zone, where Kane is most dangerous, and most valuable, to the team.  Kane is not known for his defensive play, which leaves a bit to be desired, but he more than makes up for it, with his offensive skills.

Players like Jonathan ToewsPatrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa will start all over the ice, since they are the Hawks’ best two-way forwards.  All play solid, tight defensive hockey, and all have big offensive upsides.  Toews was best on the team, at taking faceoffs, with a 57.2% faceoff percentage, which is one of the best, in the NHL.  Even without the puck, Toews is a Selke Award winner, and one of the best defensive forwards, in the game.  Hossa has been one of the best two-way, defensive forwards, in the NHL, his whole career, as he is an absolute force, on the ice.  Sharp is rarely talked about for his defensive game, but he is definitely one of the better defensive forwards, on the Hawks’ roster, and he also lead the team, in points, this season.

The only forwards that Quenneville prefers to start, in the defensive zone, is his 4th line typically consisting of at least, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig.  Kruger has won an impressive 56.7% of his faceoffs, that typically start, in the defensive zone.  Both Bollig and Kruger have often forgotten about offensive upside, as Bollig surprisingly has a solid shot.  However, that is not their role, on the team.  Quenneville trusts these guys, in the defensive zone, which says a lot.  It’s a dirty, not so glamorous, but clutch role, and Kruger has been excellent, while Bollig has definitely made strides in.  It speaks volumes that Kruger and Bollig have Corsi For Percentages above 50%, considering where they usually are, when they are on the ice.

Now let’s see how the Hawks’ forwards fared, in the 1st round series, against the St. Louis Blues.

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As you can see, the numbers aren’t quite as impressive, as they were during the regular season.  You have to consider the fact that every game, where these  stats were accumulated were against a very good Blues team.

Not enough can be said on how great of a series Bryan Bickell had.  The Hawks will need him to keep up the good offensive production, as well as the physicality going, against the Wild.

Ben Smith more than proved himself worthy of 2nd line center duties, while Michal Handzus has been all but relegated to exclusive Penalty Killing duties, which he excels at.

Pretty much every player was at or near where they are expected to be, when it comes to Corsi Percentages.  That is with the exception of Marian Hossa.  During the series, against the Blues, Hossa got most of his starts, in the offensive zone, but was only able to convert 2 points, out of it.  His Corsi, was below 50%, which is unusual, for Hossa.  This isn’t to say he had a bad series, exactly, but it is worth noting.  Hossa did however play exceptionally well, in the Hawks zone, when the Blues were attacking.  It’s safe to expect much more from him, in the 2nd round.

For a preview of Minnesota’s forwards, head to the next page.