It seems like we've really gotten to know the Chicago Blackhawks over the last few years, but how much do we really know the Chicago Blackhawks, man? Do we really know anybody? Do we have a mock-up of their powerplay and penalty kill structures, their breakout strategy, and know exactly the role that Joel Quenneville has for each of his players?
Do we know Patrick Kane's favourite movie?
I don't think we ever knew Chicago. Last year, they were an 8-seed against the 1-seed Vancouver Canucks and should have, by traditional measures, been a heavy underdog. The Hawks, however lucky they were to get into the playoffs based on them failing to win Game 82 to enter, we're also extremely unlucky to be on the edge. They were the 3rd best team in the league in Fenwick Tied, one spot ahead of the Canucks (who had the advantage in Corsi, if I recall correctly) and 7th in the NHL in goal differential.
Chicago, unfortunately for them, weren't higher in the standings simply because they apparently weren't clutch enough (that's a total lie, because clutch isn't an actual thing). They were 16-13-9 in one-goal games after being 25-9-8 a season before, dropping them from 6th to 25th in one-goal game winning percentage. Either clutch isn't a real thing, or the guys they lost after their Stanley Cup run were the real clutch guys.
What happened to Chicago in the playoffs was pretty well what happened to them over the full season. Despite Vancouver being dominant in the score-tied measure (Behind The Net has the Hawks at 41% during last season's playoffs, so the Canucks won that battle 59-41). But what really afflicted Chicago, again, was those damn close games. The Canucks took 3 of the 4 one-goal games after Chicago had won the only other one-goal game in recent playoff series history (2009's Game 4).
Pythagoras tells us that Chicago should have taken 5 of the 7 games in that series, and that Chicago ought to have won 47, not 44, games.
So, we know that Chicago was better than they were last year. This season, the one-goal games have evened out, and Chicago is 7th in the league and 4th, again, in Fenwick Tied. The other thing we can see is that, as a team with even strength, their opponents have stopped 90.9% of shots, giving them a 9.1% shooting percentage, and they've stopped 91.1%, which means their PDO (adding those numbers together) is 100.2%, so they're right around the league average. Where Chicago falters compared to their elite rivals is that their even strength save percentage runs at a pretty low rate. St. Louis, Nashville and Detroit have all gotten great goaltending this season, and Chicago's had a question mark in goal for the last several years. Despite winning a Cup, they've had six different starting goaltenders in four seasons.
Now, how have the Canucks played them? Well, quite well. Continuing from the 59-41 thrashing with the score-tied Fenwick measure from last year's playoff run, the Canucks this season have taken it to them in the two games they've played:
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It's just two games, but it's a continuation of the seven-game playoff series from last year. I don't have a way to tally up each event without parsing through the play-by-play charts, but I'm quite convinced that Vancouver has had Chicago's number since the 2010 second round series. So why have Chicago out-scored Vancouver 18-13 at even-strength in their last nine games? Because Vancouver has put 5.4% of the pucks past Chicago goalies.
Call it shot-quality or whatever you want, but no team only shoots 5.4% sustainably. If the Canucks continue to dominate the Hawks, this will turn around.
Tonight will be an interesting game. After all the crap we took around the time of the Boston game and the stupid side show that made hockey not fun for a while, it'll be nice to be able to return to a rivalry that means something, where the players respect each other enough to not break out into a fight every three seconds because TOUGHNESS.