For years, the Chicago Blackhawks have dominated the Central Division both statistically and by winning the Stanley Cup. When you look at the statistics for the Central Division from last year to this year, it’s clear why the Chicago Blackhawks have fallen back.
The numbers do not favor the Chicago Blackhawks this season. We’ve already spoken about that at length in a number of respects. But what about in comparison to what else is going on in the Central Division?
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at some key stats and see how they compare to what the Blackhawks’ biggest rivals are doing.
It seems all year we’ve talked about the Chicago Blackhawks and their unproven defense. A player who was scratched for 25 of the first 27 games (Jordan Oesterle) is now cemented on the top pairing. Another, with some of the best defensive statistics on the team (Connor Murphy), has consistently remained out of the lineup.
The key shutdown assignment was given to a 21-year-old Swedish kid (Gustav Forsling) who hasn’t played a full year in the NHL and his partner, a 27-year-old rookie (Jan Rutta) from the Czech League.
Add to the mix the two Cup-winning veterans on defense, with a combined cap hit of approximately $12 million, looking slow and ineffective most nights, and it’s understandable why defense is usually the first thing discussed with this year’s Blackhawks.
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As with virtually every team in the league, the Chicago Blackhawks need to play better defense. Through 47 games, they have given up 2.81 goals per game. This is 3 percent worse than the Central Division average of 2.73 this year, and certainly worse than last season’s stellar 2.60 goals against for the year.
With 35 games remaining, this statistical change would equate to an additional seven goals given up the rest of this season, or one extra goal allowed every five games. Not good, but probably not enough to drop you out of the playoffs after nine straight seasons.
The real key here is more about the improvement of the entire Central Division on both sides of the puck.
In 82 games last year, the Central Division had three teams give up an average of more than three goals against per game (Winnipeg, Dallas and Colorado). This year, there is no team in the Central worse than 2.89.
Dallas went from 3.20 to a current 2.65 — a 17 percent improvement from last year. Winnipeg (14 percent improvement) and Colorado (15 percent improvement) have also improved their goals against dramatically.
The interesting part for those specific teams is, aside from Dallas, is they basically have the same starting goaltender. In Colorado, a backup goalie carried the Avs to 10 straight wins. The ghosts of Hammond past (Ottawa reference of a few years back) will probably haunt Colorado, but for now it is one of many teams in the Central that is improving rapidly.
The entire Central Division’s goals against improved over last year by over 5 percent — running 2.73 through Jan. 23 — versus 2.89 last year for the full season. Everyone in the division improved except for Minnesota (dropped from 2.54, which led the Central last year, to 2.79 so far this year) and the Blackhawks.
Will this improved defense continue for these teams for the rest of this year? Hard to say, but before we commit to defense as the sole reason the ‘Hawks are in the basement of the Central, let’s look at the offensive side of the ledger.