Jonathan Toews Image by: Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The Blackhawks’ offense looked unstoppable on opening night with a 10-goal performance. More than five weeks later, though, that outing accounts for nearly one-quarter of Chicago’s offense.
The Chicago Blackhawks opened the season with a 10-goal explosion. It was an offensive clinic, a game in which the Blackhawks looked like the Harlem Globetrotters playing the Washington Generals, with the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins inexplicably playing the role of the latter. And Chicago’s opening-night performance seemed to suggest that the Blackhawks could be an offensive powerhouse.
Here we are, though, more than five weeks later, and Chicago’s opening night seems like a distant memory.
On Thursday night in Philadelphia, the Flyers held the Blackhawks to one goal, this on the heels of Chicago being blanked by the Montreal Canadiens, led that night by call-up-turned-starting-goalie Charlie Lindgren. The feeble offensive performance marked the seventh straight game in which the Blackhawks failed to net more than three goals in an outing and the 13th time all season that the offense has been held to three or fewer markers. And as hard as it may be to believe, the result of Chicago’s often hapless offense is a Blackhawks team that finds itself dead-last in the league in goals per game since that 10-goal outpouring.
Yes, that’s right, Chicago, one season removed from finishing with the ninth-best goal total in the league, has been the worst goal-scoring team in the league since that dominant defeat of the Penguins. Over their past 15 games, the Blackhawks have managed just 2.27 goals per game, fewer than the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens and, well, every other NHL club. At this point, too, it’s become evident that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is willing to try anything he can think of to give the attack a boost.
Take the outing against the Flyers, for example. In an attempt to get the offense moving, Quenneville turned to what could be considered the nuclear option for the Blackhawks offense and put Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, usually split to give Chicago’s attack more depth, on the same unit alongside — wait for it — Patrick Sharp. If that line seems like a throwback, it’s because it is. The last time Sharp played any significant time alongside both Kane and Toews was 2010-11, according to Natural Stat Trick, and that was back when the trio formed the Blackhawks’ top unit. Of course, with that not producing much early, the line blender was on high speed as Quenneville shuffled Brandon Saad to the line, Sharp alongside Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman and mixed in Alex DeBrincat up and down the lineup. Still, though, only one goal came of it.
So, what exactly is going on in the Windy City that has hamstrung the Blackhawks’ offense to such an extent?
The simple answer is that Chicago, while they’re doing a lot of things right, simply aren’t getting the breaks. They put 39 pucks on Brian Elliott Thursday night and just couldn’t find the back of the net. And the high shot total against Philadelphia is no rarity. It marked the sixth straight game in which Chicago managed 35-plus shots, and their 33.8 shots-per-game average is eighth-best in the league.
The long answer, though, looks something like this: over the past five weeks, from their 5-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 7 to Thursday’s loss, the Blackhawks have had zero, zilch, nada in the way of puck luck and the team-wide shooting percentage is in the toilet. Across those 15 games, Chicago has shot a mere 5.4 percent at 5-on-5, second-worst ahead of only the Penguins, and have an all-strengths shooting percentage of 6.4 percent. Only the Canadiens and Oilers are worse in that regard. If you remove that five-goal game against the Blue Jackets, though — and, barring opening night, it’s Chicago’s only other game with more than four goals this season — things look even worse for the Blackhawks. From Oct. 8 onward, Chicago has a league-worst 6.2 shooting percentage. At 5-on-5, that percentage dips all the way down to 4.6 percent.
But that Chicago’s offense has been so unlucky, to put it simply, is actually reason for some hope that better days lie ahead.
We sometimes see these peaks and valleys in a team’s shooting percentage throughout the campaign, and, when it comes to the Blackhawks, they appear to be at the base of the Grand Canyon right about now. Over the past 10 seasons, though, the average shooting percentage at 5-on-5 for teams has been 7.2 percent. So, using that as a guide, it’d be safe to say that the Blackhawks are bound to see a few more pucks beat goaltenders at some point soon. That’s also the case given that few teams have put as much pressure on opposing netminders as Chicago during this dreadful stretch. Over their past 15 games, Chicago’s per 60 rates have been among the league’s best. At 5-on-5, the Blackhawks rank seventh in shot attempts (63.2), eighth in shots (33.3) and 10th in scoring chances (29.5).
There are two areas of concern, however. Chicago is 21st in high-danger chances at 5-on-5, generating 10.1 per 60 minutes. That said, the Blackhawks are putting enough pucks on net that the hope would be those chances come, too. More worrying is that Chicago’s power play has been powerless. Including opening night, the Blackhawks have cashed in on just nine of 64 attempts with the man advantage. Over their past nine games, that dips down to three power play goals in 36 chances, due in part to low shot and chance generation when they’ve got the man advantage. In fact, Chicago ranks third- and fourth-last in shots on goal and high-danger chances, respectively, since the beginning of the campaign. But Chicago has previously bucked a poor power play to generate big offensive totals. Since Quenneville took over in 2008-09, the Blackhawks have had a top-10 power play three times, but have finished in the top 10 in goals in eight of nine campaigns.
The reality is, though, that while Chicago almost certainly doesn’t have enough big guns to maintain their standing as one of the league’s foremost attacks, the Blackhawks’ lineup also isn’t this feeble offensively. And though it doesn’t feel as though it’s going to happen right now, eventually, be it by way of line-juggling, a superstar performance or a friendly bounce, the Blackhawks’ offense will find its way.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.