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Introducing Second City Hockey’s ‘Number Munchers’ series

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We take a deeper dive into the Blackhawks numbers as we unveil the newest series here at SCH.

Second City Hockey

(Author’s note: Welcome to the first edition of Second City Hockey’s “Number Munchers” series, our attempt to take a deeper look at the advanced statistics detailing what’s really happening with the 2018-19 Blackhawks)

With 21 games completed on the 82-game schedule, the Chicago Blackhawks are just past the quarter pole of the 2018-19 season, posting an 8-8-5 record, good for 21 points that had Chicago sitting in sixth place in the Central Division after Monday’s slate of games.

From a pure possession standpoint, the Blackhawks have been controlling the 5-on-5 play more often than not. Per Corsica, the Blackhawks rank eighth in the NHL, owning 51.36 percent of Corsi events during 5-on-5 play.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a Corsi event is any attempted shot on goal, regardless of whether it hit the target, went wide, or was blocked. The term is named after longtime NHL goaltender coach Jim Corsi, who currently works for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So, at even-strength hockey, the Blackhawks are taking 51.36 percent of the shot attempts that occur during play. That seems like a good thing — and it is.

However ...

It doesn’t tell the whole story, and that’s where Corsica’s expected-goals-for percentage (xGF%) comes into play. This statistic factors in shot quality along with the quantity of shots taken by a team. And this is where the arrow starts pointing south for the Blackhawks.

As of Monday night, the Blackhawks ranked 26th in the league with a 45.71 xGF%. Essentially, that means the Blackhawks are only expected to score 45.71 percent of the goals scored at even-strength play. That’s not good, and it only gets worse when factoring in how much the Blackhawks special teams units have underperformed through the first quarter of the season. Essentially, Chicago is being outplayed at even strength and its special teams units aren’t performing well enough to make up the difference.

For comparison’s sake, the 2012-13 Blackhawks ranked sixth in the NHL with a 53.42 xGF% and the 2013-14 Blackhawks were third at 55.39 xGF%, when Chicago’s teams were routinely owning the play with a high quantity and quality of attempted shots on goal.

Corsica’s tracking of advanced statistics is not the only resource available on the Internet, and it’s not the only place suggesting that the Blackhawks are surrendering too many high-quality scoring chances in each game. The data at Natural Stat Trick website has the Hawks allowing 55 percent of the high-danger chances at even-strength this season, again indicative of a team struggling on the defensive side of the ice.

If there’s one piece of positive news, it’s that the Blackhawks xGF% has been slowly trending up overall in the last month, following its rock-bottom moment after a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 21. The chart below, which comes from Sean Tierney’s excellent website, details the 5-game rolling average for the Blackhawks xGF%.

There’s still room for improvement, of course, and the Blackhawks will need to make those improvements to get back into the playoff picture over the final three quarters of the season.