The Chicago Blackhawks were supposed to be the team with the indomitable superstars in this series. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson ... the names don’t get much bigger than that, especially when the bright lights are on.
Well, apparently unless those names are Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson. That’s the Predators’ top line, something Blackhawks fans know quite well now after they thrashed their way through three straight dominant efforts against Chicago’s best players.
In a battle of the Hawks’ best vs. the Preds’ best, the results haven’t been close. It’s the biggest reason why Nashville is one game away from a sweep of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
To start, the raw numbers: Forsberg, Johansen, and Arvidsson have combined for five goals and 11 points in three games. That line has outscored the entire Blackhawks team in this series by three goals. In Game 1, they scored the lone goal to win the game. In Game 3, they scored the two third-period goals that forced overtime.
The second one came on a rebound with Keith and Hjalmarsson both in front of the net:
It’s a same story in the underlying statistics. Johansen leads the team in 5-on-5 Corsi this series at 62.1 percent, per Natural Stat Trick. Arvidsson is right behind at 62 percent, followed by Forsberg at 60.4 percent. All but five of the Predators’ players have positive possession stats as they’ve dominated the Blackhawks, but that effort has been primarily led by their stars.
That’s not really surprising, but it is notable that it’s come almost entirely against the Blackhawks’ best players. This isn’t Forsberg spinning circles around Tanner Kero and Johnny Oduya.
Joel Quenneville has worked hard in series to match up the Predators’ top line against the Toews line, Keith, and Hjalmarsson. That is supposed to be their top defensive grouping, handling the toughest assignments so the No. 2 line with Kane and Artemi Panarin shoulders most of the scoring load.
Johansen, the No. 1 center, has played roughly 60 minutes in the first three games. More than half of the minutes came against Keith-Hjalmarsson, and more than 23 of the 60 came against Toews. That hasn’t stopped him from posting Corsi numbers around 60 percent.
Here’s Johansen pushing Toews off him like a ragdoll:
When it’s the Johansen line vs. the Keith pairing in this series, the Predators have a 4-0 advantage.
These are the matchups the Blackhawks couldn’t afford to lose, and especially not to such a large degree. They’re too dependent on their star players at this point for them not to be the best players on the team pretty much all the time. In this series, the Predators’ stars have clearly outclassed the Blackhawks’, though. There are myriad reasons why the Hawks find themselves down 3-0 right now, but the domination of Johansen-Forsberg-Arvidsson against their best players stands out.