Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks have won eight of their last 12 games. That’s great, fantastic even. But the way in which they have won the games is not the most convincing. Of the eight wins, five have required either an overtime period or have gone to the shootout. Being 2-0 in overtime and 3-0 in the shootout over that stretch is a big deal. That’s a five-point swing if they had lost all those games.
The Blackhawks have a “new,” or at least have realized, their identity as a defensive team that limit chances-against and counter-attacks. They have been doing the defensive side of things pretty well and in net, Kevin Lankinen and Marc-André Fleury have been playing great since the coaching change on November 6. But it’s the counter-attacking and the offensive side of their game that has been like pulling teeth.
Other than Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Seth Jones, almost no one is generating offense for the Blackhawks. Even just recently Brandon Hagel has joined the fray, but it’s still not enough to be sustainable for Chicago to continue pulling out overtime and shootout wins. They need not just supplemental scoring, they need their stars to show up.
Here’s a quick rundown of where the Blackhawks are with their individual lack of offensive production:
• Patrick Kane has just two goals in his last 13 games.
• Jonathan Toews has 0 goals all season (24 games).
• Kirby Dach scored two goals in the first three games of the season, but is on a 17-game goal-drought since October 27.
• Dominik Kubalík had three goals in the first six games of the season, but has just one goal over his last 18 games.
• Ryan Carpenter has 0 goals all season (21 games).
• Henrik Borgström is on a nine-game goal-drought.
• Erik Gustafsson has 0 goals all season (23 games).
• Calvin de Haan has 0 goals all season (22 games).
Defensive scoring has also been a major issue for the Blackhawks. 11 defensemen have combined to play 145 games this season for Chicago and they have collectively scored five goals, with Seth Jones scoring three of them. For kicks and giggles, just letting you know that Adam Boqvist has six goals this season for the Columbus Blue Jackets and is in a four-way tie for fourth in the NHL for goal-scoring among defensemen. But realistically, outside of Gustafsson, the Blackhawks don’t have a defenseman that should be producing much more offensively as Connor Murphy, Jake McCabe, Riley Stillman, and Calvin de Haan are not known for their high point-totals in their careers.
Derek King on having four of his top six (Kane, Toews, Dach, Kubalik) in prolonged goal droughts: "That's why I have a grayness in my beard."
Said he was a streaky scorer himself as a player, and he's trying to keep everyone positive so they don't grip the sticks too tightly.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) December 2, 2021
Obviously, the most glaring of goal-scoring issues have come from players like Kirby Dach, Jonathan Toews, and Dominik Kubalík. Three players who are playing top minutes and playing on the Blackhawks’ powerplay units. They’ve had ample scoring chances this season, but haven’t been able to finish.
Here is how those three, plus Dylan Strome and Henrik Borgström, two players also rotating in the top-half of the lineup and on the powerplay, have fared at 5v5 hockey this season for Individual Scoring-Chances per 60-minutes:
5v5 iSCF/60 (Team rank for skaters with at least 100 minutes at 5v5)
• Kubalík 6.29 (t-5th)
• Dach 6.29 (t-5th)
• Borgström 6.23 (6th)
• Strome 5.45 (11th)
• Toews 4.54 (12th)
Kubalík, who broke a 15-game goal-drought with a powerplay tally on December 2, and Dach lead the way out of the five forwards looking to break out of their scoring slumps. Those are the kinds of numbers when looking at who is creating offensive chances that you want to see from players who are playing the kinds of minutes they do, especially at 5v5, where the Blackhawks as a team rank 29th this season in Scoring Changes-For per 60 minutes.
Kirby Dach on being one of several players with goal droughts: “I would be lying to you if I said it doesn’t suck but it does. You want to go out there and score goals. That’s what we’re all paid to do, that’s why we’re all on a team. We’ve got to start doing that.” #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/cverhZT9Wq
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) December 2, 2021
What you don’t want to see is for a player like Jonathan Toews, being paid $10.5M per year, ranking 12th on the team in anything having to do with creating offense. Toews not having a goal this season has been a major storyline following him all year. The narrative around him has morphed from the feel-good return of the Captain storyline, to a “does Toews need to be scratched?” storyline.
Here is how the five players have fared as far as Individual Expected Goals per 60-minutes this season:
5v5 ixGF/60 (Team rank for skaters with at least 100 minutes at 5v5)
• Kubalík .55 (5th)
• Borgström .52 (6th)
• Dach .51 (7th)
• Strome .47 (9th)
• Toews .29 (12th)
Toews is once again 12th on the team in an offensive metric. We didn’t expect to see Toews without a goal at this point in the year, but even his play on the ice isn’t expecting him to score much either.
Jonathan Toews on separating his lack of goals with the rest of his game:
"It's definitely challenging. I haven't been through anything like that where some nights even when you play well, you're kind of being harder on yourself than you should be."
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) December 7, 2021
What we do see is that from the chances created by players like Kubalík, Borgström, and Dach, they should be scoring at a rate at 5v5 much higher than they actually are. So the chances are there, the finishing is not.
As we saw with Brandon Hagel’s powerplay goal on Sunday night against the Islanders, sometimes when you need a goal, the best plan is to go to the front of the net and see what happens. A puck could go off your skate, shin pad, arm, off your head, anything and it could find the back of the net. Sometimes all you need is some puck luck to break out of a slump. When it comes to getting to the high-danger areas this season, the Blackhawks are the worst in the NHL at an 8.57 High-Danger Chances-For per 60-minutes rate at 5v5. Since November 7, they rank 30th at an 8.90 rate per 60-minutes. Better, but not really.
Individually, here’s how those five rank for High-Danger Chances-For per 60-minutes this season:
5v5 iHDCF/60 (Team rank for skaters with at least 100 minutes at 5v5)
• Strome 3.41 (1st)
• Dach 3.31 (2nd)
• Borgström 3.11 (5th)
• Toews 1.86 (11th)
• Kubalík 1.52 (12th)
Dylan Strome and Kirby Dach are getting to the high-danger areas for Chicago the most this season. For a team ranking as low as they do, at least that is good to see. Just as it did for Strome on Sunday night against the Islanders, getting to those areas around the net should eventually pay-off for a player like Dach. Toews and Kubalík, on the other-hand, are trying to create their chances from other regions of the ice and relying more on their shot than they are on getting in-tight to the net.
For Dach, the analytics suggest that eventually the goals will start coming. Not a moment too soon for the 20-year-old either, as his body language is starting to look similar to that of Toews through their scoring droughts.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) December 6, 2021
Jonathan Toews just slammed the bench door after his shift and is sitting with his head down.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) November 26, 2021
These guys just need some G.D. puck luck, and they need it now. For their sakes and for the Blackhawks as a whole. There isn’t necessarily a sense that Chicago needs to hit the panic button on the season if they are going to sink or swim. There are still 58 games to be played and the Blackhawks have scooped a lot of the water out of the boat over their last 12 games that had accumulated in the ship over the first 12 games of the season.
Maybe it’s patience that will help break the drought? Patience that eventually the dam will break and the goals will start coming for these top forwards. But for Toews, a player who is accustomed to scoring at a 29-goal rate for an 82-game average in his career, his patience is already being tested this season.
Jonathan Toews: “(I’m) definitely not where I want to be, but it’s another thing I just try to be patient with. It’s not really in my nature to be patient.”
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) December 7, 2021
Chicago needs goal-scoring from their top performers and in their supplemental group. They cannot rely on just Kane and DeBrincat to produce offensively and then expect the superb level of goaltending from Fleury to continue through the rest of the season. They are allowing the sixth-fewest goals per game in the league since November 7 at 2.28, but are scoring the fourth-fewest per game at 2.04 in the same stretch. They are fifth in the league in save-percentage (.923), but 26th in shooting-percentage (7.69) and come out at 14th in the NHL in PDO with an even 1.000, all since November 7.
The lack of scoring is not sustainable. The super-human goaltending is not sustainable, either. Something’s gotta give.