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3 takeaways from Blackhawks’ Game 1 win against Oilers

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Two defensive pairings are going in different directions and the power play was... great?

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers
The Chicago Blackhawks celebrate the 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Qualification Round
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The Blackhawks took Game 1 of their Western Conference Qualifier series against the Oilers with a 6-4 win Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

Trust in Maatta-Koekkoek

The Blackhawks’ third pairing of Olli Maatta and Slater Koekkoek played much of the game together. In fact, 13:04 of Maatta’s 16:49 and Koekkoek’s 15:30 was spent together. Besides each other, their most common partner was Calvin de Haan, whom Maatta spent 2:43 with and Koekkoek 2:04.

However, the argument exists they should spend even more time together, and on the ice. Maatta didn’t allow a goal in his time, in fact saving what could have turned out to be a critical one at the end of the second period:

Koekkoek allowed one goal against, although not when paired with Maatta (instead in his 34 seconds with Duncan Keith).

Maatta’s save came on the penalty kill, where he spent 1:22, but allowed only three shot attempts (vs. Keith’s seven in 4:18) and one shot on net (vs. Keith’s five). Maatta also allowed zero high-danger chances, which is especially critical on the penalty kill. While Maatta did take a penalty in the game that led to one of Edmonton’s three power-play goals, when he’s not in the box he’s been solid when shorthanded.

In the third-most penalty kill minutes on the Blackhawks’ blue line in the regular season, Maatta moved the puck better than either Keith or Connor Murphy (12.68 percent Corsi For vs. 9.17 and 9.46; 15.27 percent shot share vs. 13.17 and 13.61) despite a smaller offensive zone start percentage (2.04 percent vs. 3.74 and 2.88).

Maatta and Koekkoek had a 72.37-percent expected goal share at even strength and a 50 percent high-danger share, although they had just a 40 CF% and 46.15 percent shot share, all while facing off largely against the Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto line (Maatta at 6:34 and Koekkoek at 5:34). Koekkoek even dominated play against Draisaitl with a 94.99 expected goals percentage, while Maatta had 72.95 percent.

The third pairing can be trusted with more minutes and they earned them, too.

No more Keith-Murphy, at least on the PK

This section has been updated for context and clarification.

Keith and Murphy were on the ice for three of the four goals against, which included two of Edmonton’s power play goals and the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal with Edmonton’s net empty. Keith was also on the ice for Edmonton’s fourth goal.

Keith and Murphy played 3:21 together at even strength in Game 1 and had some positive stats. Among them, a 63.64 CF% and 70.63 percent expected goal share, although they also had a 33.33 percent high-danger goal share (Murphy didn’t allow one in 15:03 with de Haan, Keith none in 10:04 with Adam Boqvist).

Although a small sample size (2:04), Keith and Murphy’s numbers at five-on-five left some room to be desired. They had just a 49.01 percent expected goal share and 50 percent high-danger share, numbers that go up when Murphy plays with de Haan and Keith plays with Boqvist. However, their 75 CF% and 66.67 percent shot share are not offensive to the eye, so perhaps a larger sample size wouldn’t be as bad a thing as the duo continuing on the penalty kill.

Murphy and Keith were still better with different partners. That’s not all that odd, considering the duo had a 51.5 percent shot share and 43.01 percent high-danger share during the regular season in 214:28 at even strength, and allowed 11 high-danger goals against. They simply haven’t gotten the best out of each other.

With Keith on ice for four goals against and Murphy on for three, they both need to be redeemed in Game 2. Fortunately for them, neither allowed a goal with their primary partners, or at five-on-five play, so maybe stick with that formula. But what does that mean for the penalty kill?

Maatta and Koekkoek should get more time together on the PK and Murphy should be paired with de Haan, who played 1:09 in Game 1. He had a better performance there than Keith and Murphy (one shot and zero high-danger chances).

Power play was ... great?

The Blackhawks scored multiple power play goals — two from Dominik Kubalik and one from Jonathan Toews — in their return. It’s obviously a good sign for a team which had a 15-percent conversion rate on the man advantage during the regular season.

Both teams had three power play goals, but the Blackhawks had the better performance with 21 shot attempts in 6:50 compared to the Oilers’ 10 shot attempts in 4:38. Chicago more than doubled its shots (13 to 6), produced more quality chances (1.22 expected goals to 1.05) and had a good number of high-danger chances (five).

The Blackhawks outperformed the regular season versions of themselves, and did so against the League’s second-best penalty kill in the regular season.

Two of the key reasons presented themselves both against the Blues, in an exhibition game, and the Oilers. One being Kubalik and the other Kirby Dach’s play-making abilities and contributions in terms of screens and net-front presence.

Dach continued that play against the Oilers. He caused a pileup behind the line that allowed Patrick Kane to grab the puck and begin the play that led to Toews’ goal then had an assist — his first playoff point — on Kubalik’s first goal.

The Blackhawks are getting results from players who weren’t visible on the man advantage in the regular season, and that’s making the difference.

Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com