The Chicago Blackhawks have been struggling on offense quite a bit recently, and looking at the shot selection may show why so many shots are not reaching opposing goaltenders
While attending the United Center on Sunday night to see the Chicago Blackhawks play the Kings, there was a tendency in offensive setup and shot selection by the Blackhawks that I had not noticed as much before seeing it in person. A large number of Blackhawks shots come from the perimeter points (near the blue line or along the boards) of the zone.
This came in a game where the Blackhawks were only able to muster 25 shots on goal. The Blackhawks had offensive zone time, but a large number of shots were being blocked by Kings defensemen.
Turns out 19 shots were blocked by Kings players during that game Sunday, nearly as many shots as the ‘Hawks were able to get on goal. When watching a game, you can feel the frustration on nights the team cannot get shots on goal.
Even when the ‘Hawks spend time in the opponent’s zone, they seem to not be able to get anything going. After tallying the stats to look at the number of shots that get blocked per night, you can see the Blackhawks are struggling to have their shots find the net.
Turning to the stats
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Currently, the Blackhawks sit at No. 20 in the league in team blocked shots with 383, which is not totally surprising as we have seen a large number of shots reaching Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg this year.
The NHL leaders in blocked shots are the Arizona Coyotes, who have 451 blocked shots in 30 games this year — including Niklas Hjalmarsson’s 34 blocks in just 17 games.
But even higher than Arizona is the total of the fictional franchise “team playing the Blackhawks.” In 27 games this year, opponents playing the Blackhawks have blocked 493 shots, or just above 18 blocked shots per night. That’s 42 more blocked shots than the NHL team leader in three fewer games.
What may be factoring in to what is causing so many Blackhawks shots to be blocked? Well, let’s take a look at the Blackhawks’ shot charts versus some of the higher producing teams in the league, courtesy of IcyData.
To the charts
As I mentioned earlier, it seems like the ‘Hawks are playing a lot of time in the offensive zone around the perimeters; near the blue line and along the boards. When looking at a shot chart for the team, this seems to be true.
If you are not used to looking at shot charts, it may look to you like the ‘Hawks are actually pretty good at getting shot attempts from the middle of the zone and near the crease. But let’s take a look at a much more successful team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lead the league in goals scored.
Notice the increase of shots in front of the crease and in the slot between the dots by the Maple Leafs. Also note that the scale for dark red coloring has increased from the four it was on the Blackhawks’ chart to seven on the Maple Leafs’ chart.
Here is another visual comparison of shot location, this time between the Blackhawks and Lightning, from HockeyViz.
Seen here again, a large portion of the Blackhawks’ shots are coming near the blue line or on either side of the crease. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is taking a large number of shots right in the slot and has been very successful doing so this year.
Lastly, let’s keep it with the Blackhawks and Lightning comparison, but specifically look at shots on the powerplay. The Blackhawks’ perimeter play may be most noticeable when you watch their powerplay, with the puck cycling from defensemen to forwards on the wing and back up top for a majority of the time in the offensive zone. Here is a look at the Blackhawks’ shot chart from IcyData when on the powerplay.
Once again, you notice the middle of the zone is not very active and you notice a good number of shots all across the blue line and deeper in the faceoff circles.
Meanwhile, here is what the shot chart looks like for the most successful powerplay unit in hockey, that of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Strong numbers in front of the crease and in the slot as well as better locations within the faceoff circle can be seen. Also, you will notice most shots near the blue line are centered on the ice, instead of spread across the entire blue line like they are with the Blackhawks.
While the comparisons in shot charts displayed here are between the Blackhawks and two of the best offensive teams this year, the tendencies can be seen in the ‘Hawks’ charts alone. There seems to not be as much Chicago production in and around the slot as you would hope, and a larger number of shots from far out and bad angles.
When looking at these charts and keeping in mind that opponents are blocking shots at an incredibly high rate against the team, an increase in effort to get more production near the slot seems to be one possible way for the team to get some more output from their offense.
Mainly, the concern here is the lack of shots on net and the amount of blocked shots opponents have against the Blackhawks. The team seems to have many offensive chances not even reaching the opposing goaltender. More shots getting through will force goaltenders to actually make a save, possibly resulting in a goal or leaving a rebound out in front of the net.
Whether it be specifically from shot selection or from any number of the factors that goes into the offensive play in hockey, the Blackhawks need to find a way to avoid legs and bodies and get more shots on goal. Their season may depend on it.