This is the eighth installment in Second City Hockey’s stock report series on a 3-1-2 run for Chicago that started with a 6-2 win over Toronto on Jan. 18 through a 2-1 overtime loss to Boston on Feb. 5.
1. Erik Gustafsson’s trade value
The defenseman is the trade piece the Blackhawks most need to shop during the 2020 deadline, as he’s in a position Chicago needs to improve if they’re going to make the playoffs. It’s a good thing he’s elevated his play during the past six games to increase his trade value.
Not only has Gustafsson scored more points than games played with a team-leading seven (one goal, six assists) in the past six games, he’s scoring more points per 60 (3.47) than he was before Jan. 18 (1.22). He’s turning himself back into the offensive force the Blackhawks should have traded at last year’s trade deadline.
Erik Gustafsson with a shot fake to allow Matthew Highmore to help screen Connor Hellebuyck before ending his nine-game goal drought with his sixth of the season. #Blackhawks up 2-0. pic.twitter.com/rlpicrMCmQ— Brandon (@brandonmcain) January 20, 2020
Gustafsson is also handling the puck well with four giveaways to three takeaways. The significant improvements the Blackhawks and the rest of the League needed to see out of a potential deadline rental are being seen right now.
2. Kirby Dach
Dach has also seen an elevation in his points/60 (3.55) than in his previous games (1.14). That’s likely a function of him shooting more (6.51 shots/60 vs. 6.41) and developing more quality chances (.96 expected goals/60 to .63). He’s also continued his ascent as a defensive force, getting seven takeaways in the last six games (tied for the most with David Kampf and Alex DeBrincat) and is tied for second-fewest giveaways (at one, with Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome).
Dach is averaging a point per game in the past six games like Patrick Kane with six (one goal, six assists). The rookie has more expected goals (1.63 to 1.60) and found his way to the high-danger area more (nine chances to seven). Dach, who is only 19, is becoming the two-way force the Blackhawks want and need him to be.
David Kampf scores his seventh goal of the season to give the #Blackhawks a 3-1 lead at 9:29 of the third period. Kirby Dach with an assist on the play for his second point in 28 games. pic.twitter.com/0i6DGTy5Xl— Brandon (@brandonmcain) January 20, 2020
3. The Blackhawks’ PDO
The Blackhawks’ PDO has always been high this season as before Jan. 18, they were eighth in the league at even strength and ninth at all situations. They had a 1.009 mark, which is well above expected. That’s in part due to a great goaltending tandem, but also some better shooting than expected.
The Blackhawks are sixth in the League at all strengths with a 1.026 PDO since Jan. 18. A PDO spike could be useful for a playoff push as they’re mostly receiving it from their goaltenders instead of a higher than usual shooting percentage, but it may not last. The Blackhawks have spent much of their time wavering the line between good and bad PDO this season.
1. Dominik Kubalik’s volume
The crucial goal scorer before the past six games was Kubalik, who’s only scored three goals in the past six games. He’s fallen off his pace and hasn’t scored a goal since returning from break. Saad has actually taken over chief goal scoring responsibilities, with four goals in the past six games.
Part of that is a decline in what has been a consistently excellent season for Kubalik in terms of production. His 10.47 shots per game was a team high before Jan. 18, and he had 2.95 points per 60 minutes. A large share of his points came from quality chances, as he also had 1.11 expected goals/60, better than even Kane.
Kubalik has fallen off since Jan. 18 to 2.66 points/60, .78 expected goals/60 and 6.65 shots/60. He might be the Blackhawks’ best shooter this season, and he’s either lost opportunities to shoot or has simply stopped shooting. If the Blackhawks are going to climb back into the playoff race, their shooters need to shoot and it starts with Kubalik.
Dominik Kubalik scores his 19th goal of the season and eighth in his past seven games to make it 5-1 #Blackhawks. A great pass by Slater Koekkoek to Jonathan Toews on the play. pic.twitter.com/hEQg9rq5vL— Brandon (@brandonmcain) January 19, 2020
2. Puck possession
The Blackhawks’ possession numbers have climbed in relation to the rest of the League in the past six games, but their actual numbers have fallen.
Shot share: 30th to 23rd
Expected goal share: 28th to 24th
High-danger share: 30th (unfortunately consistent)
Those numbers have gone from 46.1-percent expected goal share before Jan. 18 to 45.4, from 45.1-percent high-danger share to 40.3. Their spike in PDO has not coincided with a rise in their ability to drive the puck and maintain possession, which makes it especially dangerous. The Blackhawks aren’t playing better hockey, but they’re seeing better results.
3. Blackhawks’ playoff hopes
The Blackhawks’ success lately being related to PDO instead of play, and losing two games in overtime back-to-back against playoff opponents after only beating the team ahead of them for the wild card in overtime means they likely won’t be going anywhere this spring.
They’ll need to be better going forward if they’re going to do the one thing they haven’t done in recent years, and finally get their young players some playoff experience. Right now, the Blackhawks’ postseason odds grow bleaker — they are three points out of the top wild card spot with two games in hand, but three teams lie between them and the first wild card, two before the second. It’ll be a steep hill to overcome Nashville and Winnipeg, let alone Calgary or Arizona.
The Blackhawks begin a five-game road trip through Western Canada against the Jets at 6 p.m. Sunday at Bell MTS Place.