Chicago Blackhawks Looking For Familiarity In Unfamiliar Times

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 18: Patrick Kane
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 18: Patrick Kane /

The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in unfamiliar territory 16 games into the season as they sit in sixth place in the Central Division.

After thrilling their fans with an offensive explosion in their first two games, the ‘Hawks have sputtered into mediocrity. They have scored 43 goals in 16 games, but removing the 15 goals they scored in the first two games, they have scored 28 goals in 14 games. This is an anemic average of 2.0 goals per game.

This surely is an unfamiliar place and look for a team that has set a high bar for itself and the rest of the league for the past 10 years. Is this just a speed bump or the shape of things to come?

The stated goal from general manager Stan Bowman was to improve team speed this year.  According to stats man Sean Tierney, the ‘Hawks are playing a high-event, high-pace brand of hockey.

Famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” This team is playing end-to-end hockey but not getting much done. As the next chart shows, the ‘Hawks are just mediocre for all the high event hockey they’re playing.

The ‘Hawks are not in the bad defensive category thanks to the stellar goaltending from Corey Crawford. He is a league leader in goals saved above average per 60 minutes.

Breaking down the Blackhawks’ struggles

I took a shot at the team in a recent editorial post, stating that the team should start playing a defensive system of hockey that they have been playing a version of for the past 10 years. Due to a lack of speed and a grasp of their own system, they don’t seem to be playing their unique brand of hockey that we call Blackhawks Hockey.

More from Analysis

It may have been a snarky commentary, but I wasn’t seeing any familiarity in how they were playing to how they’re supposed to be playing.  It appears there are some more defensive tweaks coming.  So let’s see if they start turning this around.

On the offensive side, the dearth of goals is not relative to their high ranking in the PACE chart.  Let’s take a look at some fun stats to figure out what’s happening.

Emmanuel Perry of Corsica has developed an amazing algorithm to rate players on meriting Star of the Game selections.  This formula assigns weights to performance statistics to paint an overall performance metric.  Here is the graph for ‘Hawks Star Ratings.

The ‘Hawks have no one in the top 10 players in the league.  Brandon Saad sits on top of the list for the team, but leaguewide he sits in 40th place.  And after the top five ‘Hawks skaters on this list, there is a dramatic fall-off.  This starts to put things into perspective of why the ‘Hawks are where they are.

On paper, the ‘Hawks seem to have a pretty solid roster.  But in reality, they just aren’t clicking together.  The star ratings seem to be too low for the caliber of players they have.  Is it just bad chemistry?  Well, the famous line blender of coach Joel Quenneville has been full mix mode over the past few games, and we’re about to see another concoction from the blender.

What could new lines mean?

This new look spreads out the top effective forwards across the top three lines.  The new top line definitely brings an element of familiarity and the hope that this will translate into some serious scoring production.  This trio has done it in the past.

So the big question here is whether Patrick Sharp can jump-start his season by reuniting with his old linemates.  He’s definitely been the enigma on the previously maligned third line.  Let’s hope the statement that “absence makes the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeds contempt” does not ring true here!

Coach Q is definitely looking for familiarity to jump-start the top line and get things rolling for the other three lines.  It’s been rare for him to pair Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together for 5-on-5 play, so there’s some desperation here.

Yes, it’s relatively early in the season for desperation, but 2.0 goals per game?  It’s time to get out of this unfamiliar wasteland and back into the familiar swing of things.

Next: 5 Worst What If Scenarios For 2017-18 Blackhawks

The Philadelphia Flyers will be looking to avenge last week’s 3-0 loss at the hands of these Blackhawks, so look for them to come out of the gate fast and hard tonight.  Let’s see if the ‘Hawks can answer with a familiar response.  Let’s Go!