Offense was not the problem for the Chicago Blackhawks last season. Their scoring touch just seemed to disappear at the worst times.
We’ve all heard Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Historically, the Chicago Blackhawks have taken Gretzky’s advice to heart and are one of the top four most efficient offenses since 2007 (for a statistical analysis, see my previous article).
What Went Wrong Last Year?
Whispers among internet hockey pundits and enthusiasts will point towards several explanations: age of the core players, the team losing their edge, the coach transition, and etc. However, if you listen closely, the whispers start to form a deafening din: defense.
Anecdotally, the majority of the games I watched seemed to follow a similar theme — the ‘Hawks would grab an early lead only to struggle to keep it in the third period, subsequently falling in overtime.
Let’s not rely on my memory though, but examine and visualize the timing of goals scored for and against the Blackhawks for their entire 82 game 2018-2019 campaign.
The Blackhawks shot the puck 2,669 times last season, so let’s examine the 10% that lit the lamp, as well as the 10.2% that made it past the Blackhawks’ net-minders.
First, I plotted the scoring density for the Chicago Blackhawks and their opponents across the 82 game regular season.
As we can see above, the Blackhawks’ opponents out-performed the ‘Hawks at nearly all times, especially towards the beginning and end of the first period, end of the second period, and beginning of the third. The Blackhawks seemed to outperform their opponents at the beginning of the second period.
Another interesting question is: when were other NHL teams scoring game winning goals that the ‘Hawks just couldn’t overcome?
The plot below depicts the scoring density of game winning goals (top panel) and non-game winning goals (bottom panel).
A striking pattern that emerges is the game winning goals scored in the third period. The Blackhawks were excellent at putting games away early in the third; however, this pattern completely reverses past the 10 minute mark. This provides precise time evidence of when the Blackhawks’ were losing games (see also the 2nd period).
Now, what about the trend I mentioned earlier? ‘Hawks get an early lead, lose the lead in the third period, and then come up short in OT. Let’s examine goals that tie the game:
Again, a dichotomous relationship appears in the third period. The ‘Hawks were good at tying games at the beginning of the 2nd and 3rd periods; however, their opponents tended to tie games late in the third (sending to OT).
If you are curious about the OT scoring density, a similar story emerges:
If you were watching the OTs last season, you probably remember the rise in excitement when the puck was dropped, only for it to be ripped from your heart just seconds later.
Their opponents tended to put OT games away early, but the ‘Hawks tended to win if they could survive the first few minutes. The ‘Hawks ultimately won 9 OT games while losing in 11.
Defensemen and Goalie Susceptibility
What kinds of shots were the Blackhawks’ defensemen and goalies most susceptible to?
Across all regulation minutes, the Blackhawks had a tough time defending the wrist shot more so than other shot types.
Overall, the shot density data across the 2018-2019 support most of my anecdotal experience with watching the Blackhawks last season.
This largely explains all the defensive moves Stan Bowman has been making in this rollercoaster of an offseason.
Hopefully, the ‘Hawks can improve their defensive slump next season by holding leads, defending against the wrist shot (less open space on the ice), and improving their OT performance, especially in the first few crucial minutes.