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Reasons to be optimistic about Blackhawks after Game 1 loss to Golden Knights

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Even in the darkest night there are glimmers of hope, or something like that.

Chicago Blackhawks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game One
David Kampf of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game One of the Western Conference first round
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The Blackhawks got beat by the Golden Knights on Tuesday in Game 1.

That’s just how it is. A 4-1 loss and 42.86 percent Corsi For, 34.88 percent shot share and 44.14 percent expected goal share at five-on-five can only look a certain way.

But there are some glimmers of hope. This is the playoffs, and “anything can happen” as we so often hear from the masses. The Blackhawks do have some positive things to look back on and say, “well, that worked.”

Penalty kill

Chicago scored a shorthanded goal and did not allow a power-play goal against Vegas’ power play, which ranked in the top 10 during the regular season.

A failed challenge call for offside on a goal against led to a delay of game penalty for the Blackhawks, but David Kampf’s tallied his first playoff goal to swing some momentum into Chicago’s favor.

The fourth line, which Kampf centers, will need to keep going at crucial moments in this series, just as Matthew Highmore found ways to score at important times against Edmonton. Kampf scoring against Robin Lehner for a 2-1 score shows they could potentially keep doing that.

The Blackhawks also didn’t need the penalty kill all that much as they only took two calls in the second period. The 4:25 time is the fewest penalty kill time the Blackhawks have in the postseason so far. That discipline along with an aggressive forecheck turned out to be great.

It was also the only time Corey Crawford looked truly confident, stopping .62 expected goals at five-on-four penalty kill and .7 across the penalty kill.

High-danger control

The Blackhawks allowed one high-danger chance in the first period, when they cut off lanes inside and kept Vegas’ buzzsaw of relentless pressure to the outside, where Crawford could make saves easily. The Blackhawks controlled the pressure for the first two periods, but eventually the buzzsaw wore Chicago’s defense down.

If just at five-on-five through 40 minutes, the Blackhawks allowed three high-danger chances. That gave the Golden Knights just 1.01 expected goals, and that’s prevention the Blackhawks need to see more of.

For context, in the four games against Edmonton, the Blackhawks allowed four high-danger chances at five-on-five in Game 1 then 17, nine and 18 the rest of the series. Allowing seven to Vegas is the best Chicago has done since Game 1 against Edmonton.

Vegas, meanwhile, had 10 high-danger chances at five-on-five against both Dallas and St. Louis before eight against Colorado. The Golden Knights’ numbers against the Avalanche came in a round-robin low 38:19, so the Blackhawks controlled Vegas’ pressure better than any defense did during the round robin.

First line remains Blackhawks’ best

The line of Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik remained the Blackhawks’ best line statistically against the Golden Knights, and even looked dangerous at times.

Not only did Saad make an excellent defensive play on Shea Theodore to grab the puck to set up Kampf’s goal, he had a team-best 54.17 CF% and was tied for the second-best high danger share with his linemates.

In 9:37 of five-on-five time as a group, Kubalik-Toews-Saad had a 50 CF% and 42.86 percent shot share, both team highs. They also got a 73.9 percent expected goal share and 75 percent high-danger share, second only to the line of Alex Nylander, Dylan Strome and Drake Caggiula. The first line were lost in terms of quantity, but their quality of chance was better than the competition they were put against for Vegas.

If one line remains the same after Game 1, it would likely be this one.

Crawford could be better

It wasn’t Crawford’s best game. He allowed four goals on 34 shots, with just 2.29 expected goals allowed from the defense in front of him, including a goal by Reilly Smith that trickled past him and into the net.

Crawford could have been better, which is a good thing. Unless Crawford got a shutout Chicago likely wasn’t winning Game 1. His performance gives him room to improve and with a .882 save percentage, things should likely only go up.

Crawford allowed two goals on 18 low-danger chances and two on six high-danger chances, after allowing six low-danger goals and eight high-danger goals against Edmonton.

While Chicago’s control of high-danger chances should help with that category, Crawford should be likely to improve on his low-danger save percentage, down from .915 against Edmonton to .889 against Vegas.

The thing about what may have been the Blackhawks’ worst game of the postseason: this could likely be rock bottom, and there’s only going up from here.

Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com, Hockey-Reference.com and Evolving-Hockey.com