As the holidays are upon us, kids young and old will compile their wish lists. What’s on your list this year, or a wish list for the Chicago Blackhawks?
After an explosive start, expectations for this year’s edition of the Men in Red have gone from giddy to anxious. It’s like shaking a finely wrapped present under the tree and not hearing anything from inside. So as we compile our holiday wish lists, we hope Hockey Santa blesses the Chicago Blackhawks with the gifts that fulfill their expectations, and those of the fans.
Wish list expectations
A really good measurement of evaluating the effectiveness of any team is to look at its expected goals for and against compared to actual goals scored and allowed. Expected goals for tells us how well the team is creating scoring chances and not simply about firing shots on net (Corsi-for). And when you compare the rate of quality scoring chances to actual goals scored, you get to see how effective the team is at capitalizing on those scoring chances.
As of Dec. 17, the ‘Hawks are sitting sixth in the league for expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF/60) with 2.6 per Corsica. They sit in fifth place for actual goals for per 60 minutes (GF/60) with 2.67. By comparison, the Columbus Blue Jackets lead the league with an xGF/60 of 2.8, and the Tampa Bay Lightning lead GF/60 at 2.96. What this tells us is that the ‘Hawks are pretty good at generating and capitalizing on their scoring chances.
On the flip side, the ‘Hawks sit in 26th place for expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) with 2.52 and ninth place for actual goals against per 60 minutes (GA/60) with 2.19. The league leaders are the St. Louis Blues with an xGA/60 of only 1.99 and the Philadelphia Flyers with a GA/60 of 1.83. This tells us that the ‘Hawks are giving up way too many scoring chances, yet are staying afloat due to stellar goaltending from Corey Crawford.
Time to pose for holiday pictures
Another perspective on this comes from Micah Blake McCurdy on hockeyviz.com. Here, we see teams’ unblocked shots, which are a component of expected goals for and against.
The ‘Hawks are sitting in the middle ground between GOOD and FUN, which means they are still playing a wide-open brand of hockey. So for those who enjoy chaos, the ‘Hawks are delivering this to you with wide-open, fun hockey. But for others, this nightly dose of excitement can lead to indigestion.
Another expectation comes from the powerplay. The obvious expectation is that the team on the powerplay will generate even more scoring opportunities than it does in regular 5-on-5 play. However, this is the biggest disappointment for the ‘Hawks. And as seen in the next chart from hockeyviz.com, the ‘Hawks are simply bad.
The ‘Hawks are mediocre on the penalty kill and are just not generating offense on the powerplay. With their heralded roster, what is going on here? And what do we need to put on our wish list for these ‘Hawks?
Making a list and checking it twice
On 5-on-5 offense, we are finally seeing the best forwards occupying the top six positions. The forward combinations of Brandon Saad–Jonathan Toews–Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz–Artem Anisimov–Patrick Kane have been showing improvement as they have been kept together as lines. So the wish here is that these lines be given time to keep developing chemistry to become consistent goal producers.
The third line of Patrick Sharp–Vinnie Hinostroza–Ryan Hartman has shown some life with the addition of recently recalled Hinostroza at center. The formerly invisible Sharp made a nice pass to Hinostroza for a one-timer in the Winnipeg game. Hartman needs to play within his capabilities and continue to be aggressive. He made a nice rush to the net for a workman-like goal against the Wild and needs to do more of that.
The exiled Richard Panik should be wishing for another chance on the third line, and it appears that he will be given that chance. He currently leads the team in the differential between xGF and xGA, meaning that he is the most effective forward to create scoring chances while limiting opponents’ scoring chances. While he may have failed to develop chemistry with Toews and Saad on the top line, he could flourish on the third line against a lesser quality of competition.
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) December 15, 2017
In the spirit of Christmas, let’s call this video Wingel-bell rock. I know, sorry.
Oh the powerplay is frightful
Once again, unfortunately, we have to discuss the powerplay. As seen in the chart above, the ‘Hawks are just plain bad in this element of their game. And from this tweet from The Athletic’s Scott Powers, things aren’t looking better. These were the powerplay units going into the game against the Wild.
Blackhawks power play units
1: Keith, Seabrook, Kane, Toews, Anisimov
2: Oesterle, Sharp, DeBrincat, Schmaltz, Saad
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) December 16, 2017
I’m not seeing a mobile first unit here. There aren’t even enough right-handed sticks for Kane to look for from the right half boards. The first unit did create chances against the Wild, but its chances were from stuff attempts down low.
My wish list has the two powerplay units looking like this:
Unit 1 1-3-1/Hybrid
. Anisimov (L)
Schmaltz (R) DeBrincat (R) Kane (L)
. Forsling (L)
Unit 2 Umbrella/Overload
Hinostroza (R) Toews (L) Saad (L)
. Keith (L) Oesterle (L)
The two units would get the correct-handed sticks in the right places and bring two different looks for penalty killers to deal with. The point men need to start walking the puck along the blue line the way Michal Kempny can. This movement opens up shooting and passing lanes.
If Kempny could think the game better, I’d put him on the first unit. Also on the list, zone entries, zone entries, zone entries! Hockey Santa, please bring them a new system to enter the zone.
Is there defense in Santa’s bag?
On defense, injuries to Jan Rutta and Cody Franson will require that moving pieces fall into place. Some sort of order must be found as the continued wide-open style of play will continue to bite the team. Faithful confidence in the defensive corps cannot hide the fact that they’re still surrendering a lot of unblocked shots, as described above in the xGF/60 discussion. Help for the defensive corps is the big item on the wish list.
Duncan Keith is probably wishing for a reduction in his time on ice. Playing 23-29 minutes per game is not ideal this early in the season and at his age. On the other hand, Brent Seabrook has benefited from a reduction in playing time. He might wish for more minutes, but really should be wishing for the status quo.
In a discussion about the defense, it is important to notice the ascendance of Gustav Forsling. His performances of late have been excellent, and this is reflected in Corsica’s Star Rating. He currently leads the ‘Hawks in dramatic fashion.
Look who is on top in Corsica’s Star Rating for Blackhawks defensemen! pic.twitter.com/C5YyhoX2ca
— SteveY HockeY (@SteveYatsushiro) December 17, 2017
Connor Murphy has shown patience during the feeling-out period by playing with different partners and playing on both sides of the ice. The wish here is for him to continue playing with confidence to allow his physicality to become a true force.
The trendy toy that all kids want
Jordan Oesterle has come out of nowhere to be paired with Keith. Since being inserted into the line up for the injured Franson, he has put up these numbers in four games: two assists, two points, a plus-6 rating, zero penalty minutes, nine shots on goal, four hits, five blocks, three giveaways and an average time on ice of 20:05.
Pretty solid performances all around, including a spectacular stretch pass to Kane for a breakaway goal. All this while playing on his offhanded side. It’ll be hard to get this kid out of the line up.
The toy that no one wanted
There has been talk this past week of a possible trade with Ottawa involving Kempny. The beleaguered defenseman truly is a great athlete who needs playing time to focus his raw talent into NHL-caliber play. But Kempny had been the occupant of coach Joel Quenneville’s doghouse since Nov. 12 after a bonehead play that resulted in a goal.
The Athletic’s Neal Schmidt wrote a fantastic article regarding this. Kempny returned from the press box against Winnipeg and played one of his best games, even drawing high postgame praise from Coach Q. Kempny’s wish list should be for more playing time, either here or somewhere else. And The Rink’s John Jaeckel nailed it with his analysis about the Kempny dilemma.
The ‘Hawks are currently carrying nine defensemen, including Michal Rosival. General manager Stan Bowman will certainly ask Hockey Santa for a solution to this problem. The recent five-game win streak has seen the defense improving, but could give false hope that their woes are over.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
Oh, and Crawford IS Santa Claus bringing joy to boys and girls everywhere. Crawford has been playing in a different dimension of reality and has been their best player so far this season.
The upcoming games against Dallas and New Jersey will give the ‘Hawks the opportunity to show if they are trending upward or if they just got lucky over the past five games. Then they head into the four-day Christmas break, which brings me to the final point.
I wish you all a blessed holiday filled with joy. Share the spirit of good cheer with family, friends, co-workers, strangers and your enemies. Well, maybe not the St. Louis Blues … just kidding. And as always, LET’S GO ‘HAWKS!!!