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Chicago Blackhawks’ Showdown With Lightning A Good Litmus Test

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A picture shows a thunderstorm in the Libyan capital Tripoli on September 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD TURKIA (Photo credit should read MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture shows a thunderstorm in the Libyan capital Tripoli on September 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD TURKIA (Photo credit should read MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images) /
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The Chicago Blackhawks head to Tampa Bay for a showdown with the league’s top team tonight

In 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks triumphed over the Tampa Bay Lightning in grand fashion in the Stanley Cup Final.  But now in 2017, the Lightning are lighting up the league in grand fashion.

Tampa Bay leads the league in both points and goal differential.  On the other hand, the ‘Hawks are hovering somewhere in the middle of the pack.  So tonight’s tilt with the Lightning could be a good test for the ‘Hawks and their newly-found offense.

After a demoralizing loss to New Jersey, the ‘Hawks have earned consecutive wins against the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh.  In these two victories, they have shown better effort as new lines and defensive pairings have started to jell.  So besides having utter fandom buoy enthusiasm, let’s take a look at some stats to give enthusiasm some legitimacy.

Fancy stats to catch your fancy

As coach Joel Quenneville has tinkered with offensive lines this season, he has finally created some combinations that are finding some chemistry.  His new lines are playing some crazy, high-paced hockey, as seen here.  Notice that the ‘Hawks are almost off the chart while the Lightning is in the middle of the pack.

The new lines are generating shots and, more importantly, scoring.  The top line of Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik has been driving possession in a big way.  The second line of Nick Schmaltz-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane has been a consistent scoring threat, as Anisimov has really surged in the past week.

The third line of Patrick Sharp-Ryan Hartman-Alex DeBrincat has its rookie right winger emerging as an offensive dynamo.  And the fourth line of Lance Bouma-Tommy Wingels-John Hayden has been forcing the play and even creating scoring chances.  The common element with all lines is a better balance of size, speed and skill.

And while the ‘Hawks are dominating in the category of high-event hockey, the shot share chart shows that they are also on the winning side of shot shares.

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  • The Lightning play with a slightly higher share of shots than the ‘Hawks but trail greatly in total shots per 60 minutes.  In their recent offensive surge, the ‘Hawks are starting to generate more scoring opportunities.

    So the point here is that the ‘Hawks could mount a greater offensive attack than the Lightning due to sheer quantity.  This can be seen in the improvement of expected-goals-for versus expected-goals-against.  The ‘Hawks were recently in the red in this category but have now climbed up into the white.  The Lightning are also in the white.

    I really like looking at xGF versus xGA because these stats tell us what type of scoring opportunities are being created and given up.  These are the events that dictate the overall feel of any game and the expected outcome.

    As I mentioned earlier, the Lightning have the best goal differential in the league.  They have done this with a stellar defense and an offense that is exceeding their expected-goals-for with a high goals-for percentage.

    In this chart, they are leading the league in this category.  The ‘Hawks are in the middle range, but this may be misleading with respect to their recent two-game surge.

    The ‘Hawks will need to contain the Lightning’s electric top line of Vladislav Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov.  This will be one of the greatest tests so far for the ‘Hawks defensively.

    On the other hand, the ‘Hawks’ top line will need to continue its high level of puck possession. Notice in the next chart that the ‘Hawks’ top line does outperform the Lightning’s top line in Corsi-for versus Corsi-against.

    Again, remember that both the ‘Hawks and Lightning are pretty even in xGF versus xGA, but the Lightning are excelling at converting at a higher rate on scoring opportunities.

    The big defensive factor that can shut down this overachievement is Corey Crawford.  Besides a couple of stinker games, Crawford has been playing at an extremely high level.  In the next chart, he would be higher if not for those two stinkers.

    So to sum up, while the Lightning are leading the league in just about every category, the ‘Hawks are starting to hit their stride with their recent performances and could compete well.  They will need to continue with the formula of a 60-minute effort, staying on the winning side of shot share, creating and limiting scoring chances, and solid goaltending.

    Next: Blackhawks Jump Inside Power Rankings' Top 20

    Win or lose, we will get a good idea of just where these ‘Hawks stand.  I like the idea of winning better, so LET’S GO ‘HAWKS!

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