The last time the Chicago Blackhawks were shutout in consecutive home games was in October 2006. Trent Yawney was the coach, Brian Boucher was the starting goaltender, and the scoreless drought spanned over three games before being snapped by Jassen Cullimore. I guess you could say it’s been a while.
With Chicago going goalless in back-to-back home games, the rumbles have begun. Is this the end of the rope for coach Joel Quenneville? Has the team’s scoring dried up? What’s wrong with the Blackhawks?
Of course, this is all for naught. The answer lies in the underlying numbers, where the Blackhawks remain among the league’s best teams aside from one significant category: 5-on-5 and 5-on-5 Close shooting percentage.
Throughout Quenneville’s tenure behind the bench, Chicago has been in the top five of the league when it comes to possession and offensive zone starts. The Blackhawks have consistently started in the opposition’s zone, driven the play towards the goal, and, until now, been able to make good on their attempts.
To put it into perspective, the Blackhawks have not had a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of less than 7.41 since Quenneville took over four games into 2008-09. With the score close, never has it been lower than 7.03. This season, those figures are the worst they have ever been – and would be the worst in the league if not for the Florida Panthers – at 4.39 and 4.2, respectively.
In the advanced stat categories that have become commonplace throughout the NHL, Chicago is thriving. Their 5-on-5 Corsi and 5-on-5 Corsi Close are ranked first and second in the entire league, and they’re second and third in those same situational metrics when it comes to Fenwick. It speaks to the overall talent of the Blackhawks, and makes the shooting percentage that much more befuddling.
Chicago's lack of scoring is the reason why the team is greatly underachieving through the first month of the season. At even strength with the score close, the time you rely on your stars the most and when you would expect any of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Patrick Sharp to take over, the quartet has failed. Five points between the four of them, with Hossa being the only to register a pair.
For years now, the joke has been that Quenneville likes to throw his lines into a blender. You need look no further than Kane, who this season has spent over 15 minutes alongside all of Toews, Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Brad Richards, Kris Versteeg, Brandon Saad, and Andrew Shaw. Consistency, it is apparent, is not a cornerstone of the Quenneville offense. Even with Kane teaming back up with Toews for Tuesday night's game, it's unlikely that the pairing will last.
Though familiarity is said to breed contempt, in a game that moves as quickly and relies on anticipatory decisions as much as hockey does, it’s at times a necessity to allow the players to simply line up alongside each other with some consistency. In a tight game with crucial points on the line, absolutely, throw caution to the wind and load up your stars. But in November, keeping Kane, Toews, and the rest of the team with some steady linemates may help drive up the shooting percentage when the trios understand how to play off of each other.
What it might be time for – and what Blackhawks fans have been championing since the season began – is the call-up of Teuvo Teravainen. The young Finn has seven points in 10 games in the American League and could serve as a terrific set-up man. While the deck would certainly have to be shuffled (goaltender Antti Raanta would almost certainly have to end up in the AHL), Teravainen is an intriguing piece for the Blackhawks.
Though, really, no one player will be the answer for the Blackhawks. Reason being, the Blackhawks don’t need an answer. They need patience, maybe some consistency in the lineup, and a little bit more luck. The barrage of shots will start to go in and all will once again feel right in the Windy City. And when the dam breaks for the Blackhawks, don’t be surprised if opposition nets start getting flooded.