Chicago scored a season-high seven goals in a 7-2 win vs. Nashville on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena before heading back to the United Center and beating the Sabres 4-1 on Sunday. The Blackhawks are on a four game win streak and are 6-1-2 in their last nine games.
Connor Murphy is as good as we remember.
Remember how Murphy was the best Blackhawks’ defenseman for six games earlier this season? And how the Blackhawks defense struggled up until the Vancouver game, and then even after that has not been good? Getting Murphy back against the Predators changed how the Blackhawks played, including the fact they started blocking shots and stick checking more aggressively with 19 blocks against the Predators — three by Murphy — and 15 against the Sabres.
That limited the chances both teams were able to generate. Both Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner’s jobs are easier with Murphy on ice.
Placing Murphy with Olli Maatta on the third pairing has also helped balance the defense with Duncan Keith holding down the first pairing with Erik Gustafsson, and Brent Seabrook playing his best with Calvin De Haan.
Murphy had four takeaways, four shots blocked and two penalties drawn in 38:02 minutes this weekend. He had positive relative marks in the big three possession stats (Corsi, shot share and expected goal share) in both games, despite hefty defensive zone workloads with a 33.3-percent offensive zone start rate in Nashville and 40.0-percent vs. Buffalo.
Blackhawks’ offense is rolling
Chicago’s offense is almost entirely built off snipers with Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane. They all like to place the puck better than their expected goals say they should be able to. The fact the Blackhawks had 6.88 goals above expected this weekend is a testament to how well the team were shooting and, to a lesser degree, how badly the opposing goaltenders performed.
The Blackhawks ability to generate chances was on display. Passes were crisp and shots came from spots they needed to with six and 17 high-danger chances, respectively, which led to 11 goals in two games.
The offense is red-hot, but the ability to get to royal road (the strip of ice leading directly to the net and going in between the circles) and home plate (the triangle from the blue paint to the faceoff dots) means the Blackhawks are able to have full control over the net and choosing where their shots go. They’re not just benefiting from good luck.
Limiting high-danger chances
The Blackhawks only allowed eight high-danger chances to Nashville and 10 to Buffalo. Chicago gave up much more before this weekend, and then they started hampering chances with blocks and stick checks, and that’s made all the difference.
Both goaltenders need help in the high-danger realm among those with greater than 400 minutes: Crawford is at .819 on high-danger saves for 23rd in the NHL and Lehner’s .861 is seventh. Limiting those chances will be the real test of how good the defense can be, and if they’re able to prevent them in the manner they did against Nashville and Buffalo things might turn around.
This boils down to Murphy’s return. He has the best high-danger chances against mark on the team, both in terms of raw numbers and per-60 rate. If he and Maatta are able to limit chances, this is a better defense.