High flying offense and gaudy numbers are what the Blackhawks are known for. But the playoffs have represented a power outage for a team that thrives on its depth.
In the first two rounds, the Blackhawks have scored 35 goals in 12 games which is a 2.92 average per game good for 8th in the playoffs. That’s not bad but it does represent a drop from the regular season where the Blackhawks were the second highest scoring team at 3.18 goals per game.
It’s not that the Blackhawks have been bad in the playoffs because they haven’t. In the regular season, the Blackhawks averaged 33.1 shots per game (third in the NHL) while allowing an average of 27.2 shots per game (fourth in the NHL) which was good for the second best differential at 5.9 shots per game. The third best team in the NHL was the Los Angeles Kings who allowed the second least shots per game at 26.2.
The tables have turned for the Blackhawks in the playoffs as they are averaging a meager 27 shots per game and allowing 31.5 shots per game for the fourth worst shot difference in the NHL in the playoffs. The Kings have a shot differential of 0.1. But in the playoffs, the Blackhawks have been outshot by 8 or more shots six times and double digits three times. The highest positive shot differential for the Blackhawks is three.
A stat that is shocking for a team that is thought of as offensively dominant. If the Blackhawks are going to have a chance to advance against the Kings, they will need more out of their offense. There are several players who have risen to the occasion. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell have scored 17 of the 35 goals for the Blackhawks.
But the rest of the team has been lagging behind and if the Blackhawks are going to advance, they will need much more out of their depth players. Patrick Sharp continues to struggle scoring two goals and four assists in twelve games. Marian Hossa also has two goals in the playoffs. The Blackhawks will need much more out of Hossa and Sharp to help out Toews and Kane who have been spectacular so far. Toews has four game winning goals and Kane put a beauty top shelf to end the Minnesota series in overtime.
If the Blackhawks can get Andrew Shaw back that will help out the depth. The combination of Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig has five points in the playoffs. Too often, the Blackhawks have looked like they may be out of gas. They have coasted through games often and the second periods are a concern where they have a habit of getting outshot by more than five shots easily.
A key to the series could be Peter Regin who had a brilliant last six games of the regular season. Regin didn’t get into the lineup until Game 5 of the Minnesota series. But his speed can add to the bottom six that isn’t performing like they did last year in the playoffs. It may seem strange to point out the bottom six but you have to be able to roll four lines and with Bollig in the lineup, the Blackhawks go down to a ten forward rotation. That taxes Toews, Kane and company as they have to play more minutes. Quenneville needs to trust the fourth line which was deadly in the regular season. Give them more minutes and Kruger, Smith and Bollig will reward his faith. One of the assets that the Blackhawks have is that they are a four line team.
The other key to this series is the Blackhawks did not get the contributions from their defense that they received in the first round. Part of it was the style of the Wild but the Blackhawks were not able to get the stretch passes and quick breakouts that they regularly employ. The defense recorded 6 goals and 17 assists in the first round against the St. Louis Blues. However, against the Wild, the Blackhawks received ten points from their defense, half of which came from Brent Seabrook. Much more will be required from Duncan Keith who had one assist and was a minus one against the Wild.
This isn’t meant to downplay what the Blackhawks have accomplished. But they haven’t looked like a champion yet. They have consistently been outplayed in the playoffs and there is another level that they can reach. They need the pace of play to improve so they can be on the right side of the shot differential. More contributions from Sharp, Regin, Kruger, Kris Versteeg and company would be welcomed to help out the stars.
The Blackhawks can be better and they will need to be better offensively and in the speed department if they wish to advance to another Stanley Cup Final.