A quick glance at the Blackhawks’ past several outings wouldn’t really raise many eyebrows. Over their past five games, Chicago has lost just once while picking up two shutout overtime victories and a pair of regulation wins along the way. The problem, though, is the Blackhawks have been brutal at even strength.
In Chicago’s 3-1 loss the Winnipeg Jets Thursday, the Blackhawks scored for the first time in regulation since their 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Oct. 22. But Chicago’s lone goal in the loss to the Jets, an iffy tally by Patrick Kane that somehow found its way through Michael Hutchinson, came on the power play. Now, as the Blackhawks head to Minnesota to take on the stingy Wild, they look desperate for any kind of break at 5-on-5.
To find the last time Chicago scored even strength, you have to go back to Artem Anisimov’s tally four minutes into the first period of their Oct. 22 tilt with Florida. That’s right: the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks haven’t scored a goal at 5-on-5 for more than a week, over which time they’ve played three games.
The only team with worse finishing ability at 5-on-5 right now are the Anaheim Ducks, whose troubles have been well-documented this season. But even the Ducks, who have been blanked in five of their first 10 contests, have managed to score six goals at 5-on-5. The Blackhawks? Well, they’ve only mustered nine in just as many games, which is third-worst in the league.
What’s befuddling about Chicago’s woes is you’d be hard-pressed to find five rosters that boast the outright offensive talent that Chicago can ice on any given night. Beyond Kane and Anisimov, there’s Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and rookie Artemi Panarin. Yet still the Blackhawks have been hard done by to score when playing five a side. But the issue for Chicago hasn’t been a lack of attempts or being limited to bad opportunities, rather they’ve just been consistently met with the opposing goaltenders’ best nights.
When shutout by the Flyers, Philadelphia goaltender Michal Neuvirth was completing the second half of back-to-back blankings. Washington netminder Braden Holtby, who has been stellar this season, posted a season-best .963 SP when the Capitals beat the Blackhawks 4-1. Tampa Bay rookie Kristers Gudlevskis had three career games under his belt when he stepped in and stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 1-0 Blackhawks overtime victory over the Lightning. Even during a tough stretch for Anaheim, goaltender Frederik Andersen managed to post a .958 SP and get the Ducks to overtime. And, finally, there was Thursday night, when Chicago pelted Hutchinson with 46 shots yet managed only one goal.
It has all added up to the Blackhawks having a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 3.8 percent. That’s second-worst in the league, behind only the Ducks, who, again, have been shutout in half of their games.
What should comfort Blackhawks fans, though, is the club hasn’t had a full-season shooting percentage below 6.9 percent in the past decade. The bad news is that season came in 2014-15. The good news, however, is the Toews-era Blackhawks have averaged an 8.0 percent shooting percentage since Chicago’s captain debuted in 2007-08.
Outside of their shooting percentage, though, the Blackhawks have been exactly what you would expect. They’re eighth in shot attempts for percentage at 52.5 percent, are starting the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone and goaltender Corey Crawford has been steady. In fact, without Crawford, who remains vastly underrated, it wouldn’t be hard to argue the Blackhawks would be in the Central Division basement.
Crawford, who is often derided as a mediocre goalie on a good team, has performed exceptionally well thus far. So far this season, Crawford ranks fifth of the 32 goaltenders who have played at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5. His .945 SP is worse than only Petr Mrazek, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo. And over his past four games, all of which have been played without Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Duncan Keith in the lineup, Crawford has been exceptional with a .964 SP.
Eventually, the goals will come for the Blackhawks. Simply put, the stars will start finding the back of the net because of the sheer amount of rubber Chicago is getting to the net. With the amount of talent the team boasts, there’s no way a slump of this magnitude can last when the shot generation has been so high. The early season is ripe with aberrations and the Blackhawks’ scoring woes are just that.
(All advanced stats via War-On-Ice)