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3 up, 3 down after 4-6-1 stretch for Blackhawks

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Who is trending up and down as Christmas approaches?

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Here’s the fifth installment to Second City Hockey’s stock report series after a 4-6-1 stretch for Chicago starting Nov. 26 vs. Dallas through Dec. 15 vs. Minnesota.

Trending Up

1. J-Bone

In the last 11 games, Jonathan Toews has been on fire. He’s producing at a 1.1 points per game pace with 12 points (3 G, 9 A), including three multi-point performances. He’s also racked up 29 scoring chances, eight of those being high-danger opportunities, and at 5-on-5 has generated a 52.9 Corsi-For and a 52.1 expected goals for rate.

In addition to padding the scoresheet, Toews has been dominant at the faceoff dot with a 60.5 winning percentage and has only lost six of his last 37 draws.

After a slow start to the season for the captain with 12 points in his first 24 games, Toews has stepped up for Chicago and has gotten back on track offensively. He’s been a bit unlucky too with a career low 8.1-shooting percentage this season, which is way below his career average of 13.9-percent. Now that he has a more optimized line with Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik on his wings, Toews is likely on the verge of getting hot in the goal scoring department and will see that shooting percentage jump back up closer to the norm.

2. Connor Murphy

With Calvin de Haan and Duncan Keith out with injuries, Murphy has become Chicago’s No. 1 defenseman. During this 11 game stretch, Murphy has picked up six points, fired 18 shots and has been sacrificing the body with 22 hits and a team high 28 blocks. He hasn’t played a game with less than 20 minutes of ice time since Nov. 23 and hasn’t taken a single penalty since Oct. 20.

You can’t teach the courage to go down for a block like this on the penalty kill:

I foresee a Murphy’s Blackhawks jersey stitched with an “A” on it. He’s only 26 and we have him secured to a pretty cheap deal ($3.85M AAV) for a defenseman of his caliber through the 2021-22 season. Lord Hossa, please keep Murphy healthy.

3. Dennis Gilbert

Although the analytics might say otherwise, Gilbert has been a refreshing addition to the blue line. In his last seven games, the 2015 third round draft pick has led the team with 25 hits and three drawn penalties.

Obviously, Gilbert’s defensive skillset is going to need some polishing, but that will come in time. What has been impressive, in my opinion, has been his willingness to stand up for teammates without a second thought and his fearlessness in taking the body to separate opponent’s from the puck:

He has a snarl to his game that will make forwards second guess trying to dance around him at the blue line or to go for a risky hit when Gilbert’s on the ice.

Being on a hockey team or any sports team is like having a second family. Knowing you have a member of that family that will stand up for you without hesitation will only strengthen the bonds and chemistry within that locker room. It’s characteristic of a team that can never be demonstrated by stats or analytics and it’s nearly impossible to get through crunch time and the playoffs without it.

Trending Down

1. Alex Nylander

In Nylander’s last 11 games he only has three assists, 13 shots and has only generated nine scoring chances. He’s taken three penalties, committed three giveaways and has been a minus-6.

There’s also been a few things that have caught my attention that won’t show up on the scoresheet:

  • A lot more turning away from the puck instead of following through with a hit or stick tie up on forechecks. Earlier in the season, especially October, Nylander was noticeably hustling and battling for pucks making it harder on the opponents to breakout or succeed in a neutral zone regroup.
  • Making the simple play. There have been numerous times recently where it seems like Nylander is second guessing himself and not playing instinctively. For example, instead of driving the net on a 2-on-1 with Kirby Dach, Nylander slowed up and opened up for a one-timer from just inside the blue line. It completely killed the scoring chance. Then there have been times when all he needed to do was chip the puck into the corner, throw it on net or pull up and look for the late man during an offensive zone entry, but he decided to try to dangle through multiple defenders and lost the puck causing an odd man rush the other way.

There are going to be ups and downs for any player, especially for a younger, less experienced player like Nylander. This is surely one of those stretches; however, he’s shown flashes of offensive upside, gifted hands and speed and I’m excited to see where his developmental curve will take him.

2. Puck luck

After enjoying an above average PDO of 102.3 for the first 23 games, the Blackhawks’ so-called puck luck stat has regressed down to 96.3 in their last 11 games. The regression was inevitable when you give up 30-plus shots a game and countless high danger opportunities. It would have been foolish to think Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford could continue to bail the Blackhawks out every single game with an above .930-save percentage.

However, Chicago has only averaged 2.5 goals per game since Nov. 26 and have a team shooting percentage of 8.3-percent. A market correction is reasonable to expect in the near future where a handful of favorable bounces will go the Blackhawks way and help boost their PDO closer to 100. We already saw two on the tip in goals against Minnesota on Sunday.

The Blackhawks can make that market correction even more likely if they build off that mentality of screening the goalie and throwing the puck to the net from the point every chance they get. It will create rebounds and havoc around the crease and will lead to more ‘dirty’ goals.

3. Brent Seabrook’s offensive production

After 11 games with zero points and only four points in his first 32 games, Seabrook is on pace for 10 points this season. That would be a career low by 14 points. Seabrook has always been known for a booming one-timer and having an effective shot from the point, but he has rarely been able to utilize it with only eight minutes of power play time since Nov. 26.

Additionally, he’s often stuck defending at 5-on-5 and rarely gets any extended offensive zone time. He’s generated a 47.4 Corsi-For and 41.5 expected goals for expected goal for rate in this aforementioned stretch and will likely see that diminish even more after the loss of his usual d-partner in de Haan.

What’s next?

The Blackhawks host the Avalanche at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at United Center.

Advanced stats courtesy of Charting Hockey, Corsica-Hockey, Evolving Hockey, Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick