This Early-Season Success? It’s All About WHERE the Blackhawks Are Generating Chances and Goals

After Thursday night’s overtime win against the San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks find themselves in the middle of the pack, offensively and defensively. They have a break-even goal differential and are both scoring and allowing 3.09 goals per game.

That’s a surprise because (a) we were told this team would be historically bad offensively, and (b) there were significant questions about the two veteran goaltenders on the NHL roster and the collection of defensemen on the roster.

Nobody thought the Blackhawks would be even mediocre, much less league average. And, right now, league average is winning games.

Defensively, I think it’s safe to say the Blackhawks have been a massive surprise. They’ve allowed only 22 5-on-5 goals in 11 games, which is terrific. Offensively, they have still been challenged but there’s a lot we can take away from looking at where they’re shooting the puck from.

Chicago is averaging only 25.1 shots on goal per game, which ranks 31st in the NHL — ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes. They have scored only 17 goals at 5-on-5 in 11 games, which is not good. But, somehow, the Blackhawks are winning in spite of these limitations.

Last year the Blackhawks — with Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik — averaged three more shots per game (28.8) but scored fewer (2.60 per game). Does that make any sense at all?

The Blackhawks have been an opportunistic offense, which matters. And they’re making their shots matter by doing the little things necessary to get the puck in the net.

I wanted to dig in a little on where the Blackhawks have been generating shots from this season. So let’s go back starting with the Blackhawks first win of the season against San Jose. I’m going to specifically exclude the first game against Colorado (it was a gong show) and the 1-0 loss in Vegas because the Blackhawks were shut out for the only time this season thus far.

At San Jose (5-2 win):

Versus Detroit (4-3 OT win):

Versus Seattle (5-4 win):

Versus Florida (4-2 win):

Versus Edmonton (6-5 loss):

At Buffalo (4-3 OT loss):

Versus Minnesota (4-3 SO loss):

Versus New York Islanders (3-1 loss):

Versus LA Kings (2-1 OT win):

Okay, that’s a lot of color. So what are we looking at?

These are the game heatmaps from Natural Stat Trick, showing unblocked shots in each of the games. This is a large enough sample (nine games in which the Blackhawks are 5-2-2) that we can start to identify some trends.

I wanted to use these visual representations of the game performances at 5-on-5 play because it makes the conversation a bit easier. It should also be predictable to an extent, because if there’s one thing “the new Blackhawks” have consistently done it’s tell us what they’re going to try to do.

During the preseason, one of the things I noticed when head coach Luke Richardson was asked about a specific player’s performance — veteran or prospect — was how he talked about where the player plays. Rockford head coach Anders Sorensen echoed those statements. And, if you’ve paid attention, the players the front office has identified to add to the rosters in Chicago and Rockford do many of the same things.

“[He] plays with pace. Plays in the middle of the ice, inside the dots, so far so good.”

That’s what Sorensen said about Cole Guttman back in September. It’s an example of what everyone in a coaching or front office capacity from the top of the organization down has said about where they’re trying to drive the offensive attack to: between the circles; inside the dots. They want to get bodies in front of the net to create traffic and clean up the trash.

The Blackhawks are trying to work smarter and harder.

When the Blackhawks were rolling through the Western Conference it was because they created traffic in front of the net. They made life hell for opposing goaltenders.

That’s where the Chicago Blackhawks have been doing work early this season. A return to structured systems that were lost with Jeremy Colliton as the coach has opened the door for surprising performances all over the roster. Players are playing at career-year levels already, and that’s thanks in large part to going to the dirty areas and working hard.

Any realist will tell you, based on individual histories, that many of the Blackhawks should regress to their career numbers at some point. But the optimist will also ask if players’ pasts aren’t indicative of potential performance if their skillsets are being utilized better in the Blackhawks’ current system. What if the Blackhawks are simply putting their players in positions to succeed?

If Richardson can continue getting the work ethic we’ve seen early this season and players continue doing going to the areas where they’ve been producing, there should be a balance of optimism as realism about this Blackhawks roster.

And, most importantly for fans, they should continue to be a team that’s easy to root for because of that work ethic.

written by

Tab Bamford has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks for almost two decades. He joined Bleacher Nation as the lead Blackhawks writer in May 2022. Tab is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and is the author of two books about the Blackhawks: "100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" (Triumph Books) and "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter/X/Instagram/Threads at @The1Tab

more blackhawks news

Blackhawks vs Hurricanes – Lineups, Broadcast Info, Game Thread

Sunday evening gives us the 2023-24 home finale for the Blackhawks at the United Center. And you know who's playing? And wearing No. 91? Frank Nazar III. Let's go!!!!! Nazar will skate at center on the third line, and Taylor...

Nazar Signs, Denver’s Title, Ludwinski’s Debut, Arizona’s Caps Lock, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Where do we begin with our Sunday bullets? After an off-day (only a practice) on the calendar with three games left in the regular season, one would think it was relatively quiet. Not so much for Blackhawks fans (if, you...

Blackhawks Sign Frank Nazar to Entry-Level Contract — That Starts NOW!

On Saturday afternoon, the Chicago Blackhawks announced the team has agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract with University of Michigan forward Frank Nazar III. The deal has a $950,000 salary cap hit. And it begins immediately. Right now. As in,...

Del Mastro’s Debut, Misiak to Rockford, Frozen Four, More Coyotes Drama, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

When the month of April began, head coach Luke Richardson was asked about the final seven games being effectively a playoff series for his team; every team left on the calendar for the Blackhawks was fighting for a playoff spot....

Blackhawks 1, Predators 5 — Three Stars, Key Takeaways

After two terrible starts in a row, the Blackhawks wanted to come out better and perform well in their final two home games. Well... Andreas Athanasiou took a penalty at 5:25 into the game and Filip Forsberg scored for the...

Blackhawks vs Predators – Lineups, Broadcast Info, Game Thread

The penultimate home game of the 2023-24 Blackhawks regular season is upon us. And it's against a Central Division rival who has playoff aspirations. And we're going to be treated to another NHL debut this season. Defenseman Ethan Del Mastro,...

NHL Notes: Stanley Cup Playoffs Update, Sid’s Still Got It, Matthews 70 Watch, More

Not long now until the Stanley Cup Playoffs get going, but there are still a few spots to be decided. Last night's NHL action saw plenty of playoff positioning at stake. We'll break down what happened on Thursday and what...

Frozen Four, Donato’s 400, Del Mastro’s Debut, Murphy’s Back, Vlasic, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

The University of Michigan was shut out 4-0 by Boston College last night at the Frozen Four, which means Frank Nazar's season is over. Nazar put two shots on net and won 8 of 12 faceoffs against a very good...

What’s Next for Frank Nazar and the Blackhawks?

On Thursday night, Frank Nazar's sophomore season at the University of Michigan came to a close when the Wolverines were shut-out 4-0 by Boston College at the Frozen Four. For his night, Nazar put two shots on net and won...

Let’s Watch All Three of the Blackhawks’ First Career Goals From This Season

On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks put together one of their worst periods of the entire season in St. Louis to bury themselves in a four-goal deficit. However, late in the game Landon Slaggert was able to score his first career...

Latest News

Matt Shaw Has Homered TWICE Today (And Reached Twice More)

For all the hype generated by Pete Crow-Armstrong, Owen Caissie, and Cade Horton, the Cubs 2023 First-Rounder may have them beat. The 22-year-old infielder came into today's game batting .333/.500/.611 (1.111 OPS, 232 wRC+) with five walks and six strikeouts....

Jalen Green Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Clippers – Sunday, April 14, 2024

Will Jalen Green make three 3-pointers when the Houston Rockets meet the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday at 3:30 PM ET? If so, he'll beat his over/under for the game.Jalen Green's Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the ClippersJalen Green's over/under for...

Austin Reaves Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Pelicans – Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Los Angeles Lakers meet the New Orleans Pelicans at 3:30 PM ET on Sunday, and one of the 3-pointer over/unders available for this clash requires two triples from Austin Reaves.Austin Reaves' Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the PelicansAustin Reaves' over/under...

Karl-Anthony Towns Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Suns – Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Minnesota Timberwolves meet the Phoenix Suns at 3:30 PM ET on Sunday, and one of the 3-pointer props available for this clash requires two trifectas from Karl-Anthony Towns.Karl-Anthony Towns' Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the SunsKarl-Anthony Towns' over/under for three-pointers...

CJ McCollum Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Lakers – Sunday, April 14, 2024

To beat his 3-point prop, CJ McCollum needs to make four from downtown on Sunday, when his New Orleans Pelicans face the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday at 3:30 PM ET.CJ McCollum's Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the LakersCJ McCollum's over/under...

Anthony Edwards Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Suns – Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Minnesota Timberwolves meet the Phoenix Suns at 3:30 PM ET on Sunday, and one of the 3-pointer props available for this matchup requires three trifectas from Anthony Edwards.Anthony Edwards' Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the SunsAnthony Edwards' over/under for three-pointers...

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Mavericks – Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Oklahoma City Thunder face the Dallas Mavericks at 3:30 PM ET on Sunday, and one of the 3-pointer over/unders available for this matchup requires just one make from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the MavericksShai Gilgeous-Alexander's over/under...

Devin Booker Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Timberwolves – Sunday, April 14, 2024

Will Devin Booker drain three 3-pointers when the Phoenix Suns face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday at 3:30 PM ET? If so, he'll beat his prop for the game.Devin Booker's Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the TimberwolvesDevin Booker's over/under for three-pointers...

Kevin Durant Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Timberwolves – Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Phoenix Suns face the Minnesota Timberwolves at 3:30 PM ET on Sunday, and one of the 3-pointer props available for this matchup requires three trifectas from Kevin Durant.Kevin Durant's Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the TimberwolvesKevin Durant's over/under for three-pointers...

Domantas Sabonis Player Props: Three-Pointer Props and Odds vs. the Trail Blazers – Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Sacramento Kings face the Portland Trail Blazers at 3:30 PM ET on Sunday, and one of the 3-pointer over/unders available for this clash requires just one trifecta from Domantas Sabonis.Domantas Sabonis' Three-Pointer Prop Odds vs. the Trail BlazersDomantas Sabonis'...

more blackhawks news