After a while, you have to stop saying a team is “trending in the right direction,” and just say that they’re on a hot streak. I don’t think we’re there yet with the Chicago Blackhawks, but after Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers, they’re certainly a step closer.
It started in the first period, and it started with the top line. Just look at these first-period numbers from Natural Stat Trick for the Blackhawks’ top line:
A stupidly good period from Saad-Toews-Panik. Wow. Oh man. pic.twitter.com/KSPagdEdFB— Satchel Price (@SatchelPrice) November 26, 2017
All three players ended up with CF percentages over 75, a boost over their combined CF% of 57.66 when skating together this season. But that trio had only been responsible for 10 goals at 5-on-5 this season. On Saturday night, they produced two goals, with Toews and Saad on the ice for a third when Kane scored Chicago’s fourth goal of the game.
Toews’ goal was far from textbook, of course.
But those are the type of goals that seem to arrive when your season shooting percentage is at 8.5%, while your career shooting percentage is at 14.4%. Saad’s goal was more textbook of that line: Toews holding the puck on the end boards and throwing it to the net, where both Panik and Saad were positioned with sticks on the ice and a clear shot at the net. Saad converted for just his second goal since October 14. That was just one of Saad’s eight (EIGHT!) shots on goal Saturday night in what was his best performance in quite some time. After the way that game went, I’d wager that a Panik goal isn’t far away.
Of course, the top line isn’t the only thing that’s been looking better for the Hawks. The penalty kill is up to third in the league at an 85.4% success rate. The power play has converted on 33.3% of its chances (6-for-18) in the last five games. The possession numbers are in the Blackhawks’ favor as well, with the Hawks owning at least a 50% share of Corsi events in the last nine outings. And the Best Goalie in the Western Conference has been at it again, stopping 271 of the last 290 shots he’s faced for a strong .934 save percentage.
The D corps may be figuring some things out as well. As Satchel Price mentioned in the recap of Saturday night’s game, it appears that coach Joel Quenneville has finally found three defensive pairings that work: Duncan Keith/Cody Franson, Brent Seabrook/Connor Murphy, and Gustav Forsling/Jan Rutta.
A 4-1-1 stretch in the last six games for the Hawks matches what the numbers have been saying about Chicago for the last few weeks: the arrow is pointing up, and the Hawks are doing it against (mostly) good teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. This week, they have back-to-back games against a pair of 2017 playoff teams: hosting the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and traveling to Nashville to face the Predators on Tuesday.
Getting results in those two games will make everyone forget about that 3-5-1 stretch to end October.