Rediscovering inside opportunities
The Blackhawks shot the puck from outside the high-danger areas and the royal road against Columbus, as the Blue Jackets largely kept Chicago to the outside on both the power play and at even strength.
That likely played into the Blue Jackets blocking 23 shots against the Blackhawks. It’s easier to block shots from the outside, as it’s easier to get in front of said exterior shots. The only player who consistently seemed to find high-danger chances was Dylan Strome, although both Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews got a few in.
The Blackhawks need to be able to get to those higher-percentage areas if they’re going to be more successful in the future and not start out two goals behind. The Blackhawks’ offense has struggled this season, but high-danger opportunities never seemed to be a cause. Getting chances from in close will always be important, and the Blackhawks needed to do better there.
DeBrincat-Strome-Dach is working
Speaking of both Dach and Strome, their line with Alex DeBrincat was the only one who played more than seven minutes of five-on-five time together. The fourth line was the only other one that remained consistent. And that’s for a reason: the Blackhawks’ young trio had a 66.67-percent Corsi and 56.25-percent shot share in this game.
Both DeBrincat and Strome scored points (DeBrincat an assist and Strome a goal) and all three played more than 20 minutes against the Blue Jackets. The three combined for .53 expected goals, three high-danger chances and 10 shots.
It was their second-straight game with good possession metrics after being put together against the Islanders and so far, the three most important (arguably) players to the Blackhawks’ future work as a line.
Maatta is not the problem
Olli Maatta was a surprise scratch against the Blue Jackets, as he sat in favor of keeping Slater Koekkoek in. Koekkoek, of course, proceeded to lead directly to one goal against, take a penalty and have a minus-6 relative expected goal share. In other words: Maatta might have done better.
It makes sense why Maatta was sat: his possession metrics were bad in December (45.6-percent Corsi, 44.18-percent expected goal share) and he hasn’t scored a point since Nov. 30. But that’s not what Maatta is there for, and he still plays better defense than either Koekkoek or Erik Gustafsson — both of whom led to goals against.
Playing Maatta means taking away some of the Blackhawks’ possession driving, but it means adding a defensive depth piece who can play defense.