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3 up, 3 down after Blackhawks 1-2-1 start to season

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Who’s trending up and down after four games?

San Jose Sharks v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Last season, Blackhawks stock reports were often published the day after games. This season, stock reports will be published on off days two to three times a month discussing a stretch of four to six games. Here’s the first installment to the updated stock report series after a 1-2-1 start for Chicago.

Trending up

1. Dominik Kubalik

In four games, Kubalik is tied for second on the team in shots at 12, first in hits at 14 and has shown off a missile of a shot that has the potential to score 15-plus goals. He has exceeded expectations, has fit right in with linemates Brandon Saad and David Kampf and looks to be a steal by general manager Stan Bowman who acquired Kubalik from the Kings for a 2019 fifth round pick.

During the preseason he scored a power play goal against the Red Wings on a booming one timer from the top of the right circle:

If Jeremy Colliton starts to give the second power play unit more opportunities, which he’s done the past two games, the Blackhawks will have two dangerous units to rely on throughout the season.

2. Connor Murphy

After missing the season opener against the Flyers in Prague, Murphy has been rock solid. He owns a 57.3 Corsi-For rating at 5-on-5, has averaged 7.3 shots against per game when he is on the ice and only given up 6 high-danger scoring chances (HDCA). Calvin de Haan has been on the ice for 7 HDCA with one less game played.

His stellar defensive play has earned him a spot on the top pairing with Duncan Keith, which played a major part in shutting down Connor McDavid on Monday. He’s not afraid to block shots, take a hit to make a play (second on team in hits taken at 12) and is counted on to kill penalties. A healthy Murphy will be vital to Chicago’s success this season.

3. Physicality and being harder to play against

In the past two seasons, the Blackhawks got dominated in the hits department. In 2017-18 they were outhit by 602 checks and 409 checks in 2018-19. In the offseason, Bowman added more physicality to the lineup with Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith and Calvin de Haan. It’s paid off.

Chicago has led the game in hits in all four games to start the season and own the fifth best hit ratio in the NHL at plus-24. They’re using physicality to rub opponents off of the puck, force bad decisions by the puck carrier, exhaust opposing defenseman on forechecks and to win puck battles in all three zones. Against Edmonton, Andrew Shaw obliterated an unsuspecting Oilers defenseman behind the net with a clean hit and swayed momentum the Blackhawks way. The rest of the team seemed to follow Shaw’s tenacity, resulting in noticeably hard hits by Smith and then de Haan on McDavid.

Colliton wanted to make the team harder to play against this season. Four games in, the Blackhawks boosted physicality compared to former seasons has been apparent.

Trending down

1. Olli Maatta - Brent Seabrook pairing

The duo has played 13-minutes more than any other pairing on the Blackhawks. Although they’ve only been on the ice for one goal against at 5-on-5, a few of their possession metrics are worrisome.

Compared to the other three pairings with 20-minutes or more of time used by Chicago, Seabrook and Mattaa currently own the worst Corsi-For rating at 30.5-percent. They also have a shots against per 60 rate at 36.3, which ranks second worst behind the broken up Duncan Keith - Erik Gustafsson pairing. As their sample size grows larger, it will be interesting to see if their low Corsi-For rate leads to a flurry of goals against and how their d-pairing metrics evolve.

2. Turnovers

One of Colliton’s talking points leading up to the season was that the Blackhawks had to be cleaner with the puck, especially in their defensive zone. Turnovers often lead to odd man rushes and a breakdown of defensive structure. At 5-on-5, Chicago ranks 27th in the league with a 14.1 giveaways per 60 minutes rating. The only game they didn’t commit double digit turnovers was in a win over Edmonton. Minimizing turnovers against upcoming opponents like the Capitals and Golden Knights, who both rank in the top 12 of the NHL in goal scoring, should be paramount.

3. Dylan Strome’s faceoffs

Strome has only won 12 draws in 33 chances for a 36.4 success rate. Colliton has given Strome six defensive zone starts (dZS), eight neutral zone starts, 11 offensize zone starts and 38 on the fly starts. It’s clear that Colliton is keeping Strome away from dZS as much as possible, but when he does end up having to take a faceoff in the defensive zone after an icing or when he’s matched up with an opposing line, it would be less nerve-racking if he could improve his faceoff winning percentage to the 45-50-percent range.

What’s next?

The Blackhawks host the Blue Jackets at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the United Center.

All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference, Evolving Hockey and Corsica-Hockey