The Chicago Blackhawks have started to turn things around over the past week and a half. After firing Jeremy Colliton and replacing him with interim head coach Derek King, Chicago has gone 3-0-0, moving from 31st in the NHL standings to a tie for 28th with the Montreal Canadiens. It’s not much, but it’s progress.
Chicago’s first 12 games this season were a dumpster fire compared to what this team was supposed to be on paper. Games are not played on paper. The start of the 2021-22 season for the Blackhawks, and what would be the final 12 games of the Jeremy Colliton-era of hockey in Chicago, looked like this from an advanced stats perspective at 5v5 even-strength hockey (note the relative ranking in paranthesis).
Blackhawks NHL Ranks at 5v5 before November 7th:
• Corsi-For%: 45.09 (30th)
• Shots-For%: 43.56 (31st)
• Expected Goals-For%: 40.73 (32nd)
• Scoring Chances-For%: 43.25 (31st)
• High-Danger Scoring Chances-For%: 45.78 (26th)
• High-Danger Save%: .721 (32nd)
• Shooting%: 5.65 (29th)
• Save%: .872 (32nd)
• PDO: 0.929 (32nd)
Here’s how they have looked at 5v5 hockey since Derek King took over.
Blackhawks NHL Ranks at 5v5 since November 7th:
• Corsi-For%: 41.41 (31st)
• Shots-For%: 43.26 (31st)
• Expected Goals-For%: 43.21 (27th)
• Scoring Chances-For%: 43.94 (28th)
• High-Danger Scoring Chances-For%: 43.86 (26th)
• High-Danger Save%: .880 (8th)
• Shooting%: 4.92 (29th)
• Save%: .962 (2nd)
• PDO: 1.012 (13th)
Taking into account that the Blackhawks have had one of the better powerplay units in the league, ranking 15th on the man-advantage overall this season, it’s only fair to show that they weren’t completely in the dumpster offensively to begin the year. Although, when you are celebrating a spot in the low-20’s in the NHL, you’re not doing much right.
Blackhawks NHL Ranks at All Strengths before November 7th:
• Corsi-For%: 47.91(23rd)
• Shots-For%: 47.00 (27th)
• Expected Goals-For%: 47.57 (25th)
• Scoring Chances-For%: 46.85 (25th)
• High-Danger Scoring Chances-For%: 50.63 (15th)
• High-Danger Save%: .717 (32nd)
• Shooting%: 7.45 (27th)
• Save%: .879 (30th)
• PDO: 0.955 (30th)
• Powerplay%: 22.2 (12th)
Blackhawks NHL Ranks at All Strengths since November 7th:
• Corsi-For%: 47.26 (25th)
• Shots-For%: 51.38 (12th)
• Expected Goals-For%: 55.97 (9th)
• Scoring Chances-For%: 50.30 (16th)
• High-Danger Scoring Chances-For%: 52.70 (11th)
• High-Danger Save%: .889 (7th)
• Shooting%: 6.45 (26th)
• Save%: .954 (1st)
• PDO: 1.019 (12th)
• Powerplay%: 10.0 (25th)
Chicago is just 1-for-10 on the powerplay in three games since King took over. So what is the key factor to the turnaround?
Derek King’s coaching style and message to the team has resonated, for sure. He wants the team to play more relaxed, more loose, and more off instinct. It’s worked and the players are behind him. But take a look at those italicized categories above…notice a difference from before and after November 7th?
Who would have thought that once Marc-André Fleury started to play like “Marc-André Fleury,” the Blackhawks would become a better team?
Yes, Fleury is playing behind a much different, much worse, defense than he had in recent years with the Golden Knights, but we couldn’t have expected him and Kevin Lankinen, the breakout starter for the Blackhawks from last season, to play so absolutely awful to begin the season.
There have been 50 NHL goalies to play 60 minutes of TOI since November 7th, Fleury has made two starts for the Blackhawks in that time and Lankinen has made one. They won all three games, obviously. Here is how the two stack-up to the rest of the league since the coaching change in Chicago.
Marc-André Fleury Ranks at All Strengths since November 7th:
• Save%: .955 (4th)
• Goals Saved Above Average: 3.05 (6th)
• High-Danger Save%: .909 (9th)
• Average Shot Distance (feet): 32.48 (34th)
Kevin Lankinen Ranks at All Strengths since November 7th:
• Save%: .952 (5th)
• Goals Saved Above Average: 0.90 (21st)
• High-Danger Save%: .800 (33rd)
• Average Shot Distance (feet): 28.05 (50th – worst)
While I don’t think the coaching change from Colliton to King has much to do with the goaltending, especially since goalie coach Jimmy Waite was kept on staff, but there is a mentality and confidence change happening in the locker room that is translating to a better team effort at both ends of the ice, allowing for Fleury and Lankinen to have a better chance to stay above water. Chicago has a +5 shot differential since November 7th, compared to a -44 to begin the season. It’s a lot easier to play goalie in the NHL when your team has the puck more often and making your opponent work harder than yourself. It’s a wild theory, I know.
These rebound performances by the club and their respective net-minders could be a small sample of what is ahead for the Blackhawks. They begin a four-game road-trip tomorrow against the Seattle Kraken, a team that has experienced the worst goaltending in the NHL this season, but is also leading the league in High-Danger Scoring Chances-For% (55.90) and is fourth in Scoring Chances-For% (54.45). Whomever is in net for Chicago will have their hands full, but it appears they are up for the task now.