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Number Munchers: Can the Blackhawks sustain their recent success?

Chicago has won 12 of its last 18 games. We examine if that’s a sign of things to come.

Winnipeg Jets v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

For the second straight season it’s a similar story for the Blackhawks.

In the middle of the season, with playoff hopes dwindling, Chicago put together a strong stretch of play that sent it flying up the standings and back into the playoff race.

Questions about the sustainability of that improved play remain, however, especially after the Blackhawks cooled significantly in the final quarter of the season and ultimately missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.

What about this season? Is the Blackhawks recent run of play indicative of an improved team or a brief spike in what’ll be an ultimately disappointing season?

The Blackhawks enjoyed a 10-2 stretch last season in January and February that catapulted them back into the playoff chase. According to Natural Stat Trick, though, they regressed in almost every key possession metric. Keep in mind these numbers are indicative of even-strength play:

  • Corsi events-for percentage (CF%) regressed to 46.8 from a season average of 49.3
  • Shots-for percentage (SF%) regressed to 47.6 from 48.5
  • Expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) regressed to 43.9 from 45.8
  • High-danger chances-for percentage (HDCF%) regressed to 42.5 from 42.8
  • The team also enjoyed a PDO spike of 102.8%, well above the 100.5% season total

It’s also worth noting the power play clicked at a 25.5% rate during this 12-game period, including a ridiculous 42.9% success rate in the last six games of that stretch.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t be a surprise the Blackhawks plummeted back to Earth after that brief rise last season, given the numbers above.

What does the picture look like this season? Much brighter.

The Blackhawks are out-performing about every one of their possession metrics in the past 18 games, the 12-6 stretch that again has Chicago fans picturing a playoff chase.

  • CF% is at 49.3 in the past 18 games, higher than the 48.2 season average
  • SF% is at 48.0, an improvement over 46.5
  • xGF% is at 47.4, an improvement over 46.7
  • HDCF% is at 47.7, an improvement over 45.5
  • There’s been a mild PDO spike from 100.9% for the season to 102.4%, but that’s not as significant of a jump as last season and the Blackhawks goaltending quality has been significantly improved by the addition of Robin Lehner, which can boost a team’s PDO.

Since the start of 2020, which includes Chicago’s last 10 games, the Blackhawks rank fifth in xGF% (21.5) and 10th in HDCF% (52.3). It’s resulted in the Blackhawks rolling five-game average for xGF% climbing back above 50 percent for the first time since October.

Even the manner of victories has been improved this season as compared to last season. Of the 12 wins Chicago has in the past 18 games, one was in overtime and one was in a shootout. Of last season’s 10 wins in 12 games, three were in overtime and one other was in a shootout. The Blackhawks have been better at five-on-five in the past 18 games and that’s why they’re winning more than they’re losing. Simple concept, isn’t it?

Recent line combinations are working.

That’s contributed to an increase in offensive production, including the combinations of Dominik Kubalik and Jonathan Toews, and — perhaps more surprisingly — Ryan Carpenter and Patrick Kane.

Here are some of the top-performing line combos from this season:

  • Kubalik-Toews-Kane: 48.8 CF%, 47.8 SF%, 78.6 GF%
  • Kubalik-Toews-Caggiula: 56.1 SF%, 50.5 xGF%
  • Nylander-Carpenter-Kane: 54.1 SF%, 61.5 HDCF%
  • Saad-Carpenter-Kane: 71.9 SF%, 66.0 xGF%

There’s also been improvement on the blue line, especially the third pairing of Slater Koekkoek and Olli Maatta, who have put up a 55.0 CF% and 58.8 xGF%. That’s the top statistical pairing out of any defensive group that’s played more than 30 minutes of five-on-five

With the improved play at five-on-five — not to mention a penalty kill that’s been steadily improving since early November and sits at seventh in the League at 82.8% — there’s again hope the Blackhawks may not have to break out the golf clubs so early in April. And, this time, the numbers suggest this improved play is more than a blip on the radar.