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Numbers Munchers: Analyzing the Blackhawks’ first four games

A quick check on some advanced stats after Chicago’s 0-3-1 start.

Second City Hockey

It hasn’t been an ideal start to the 2021 season for the Blackhawks, who own an 0-3-1 record after four games.

Sample sizes for statistical analysis are limited at the moment, but some early trends have emerged that are worth diving into at this early stage of a compacted NHL schedule. Using the data from the always excellent Natural Stat Trick, here are some players and numbers that have stood out through the first week of 2021 Blackhawks hockey:

  • Dominik Kubalik’s ice time is starting to trend the right away, with his 51:55 of action during 5-on-5 play the fourth-highest mark among Chicago forwards, trailing the top line of Patrick Kane (61:34), Pius Suter (54:27) and Alex DeBrincat (53:51). Kubalik’s possession numbers stand out, though. With No. 8 on the ice, the Blackhawks have had their highest share of shot attempts (61.54 percent) and shots on goal (60.32). Kubalik’s expected goals-for percentage (64.83) is second among Chicago forwards and the Blackhawks own advantages in scoring chances (30-16) and high-danger chances (9-6) while Kubalik is on the ice, all reasons to support more ice time for Chicago’s stellar sophomore.
  • The player who’s ahead of Kubalik in xGF% and leads the team with a 71.43 percent share of scoring chances while on the ice? That’s rookie Philipp Kurashev. He’s also right behind Kubalik in CF% (60.32) and SF% (58.54), suggesting the line with those two on the wing and Dylan Strome in the middle is quickly becoming Chicago’s top possession-driver.
  • That line of DeBrincat-Suter-Kane has had a rough go through four games. In 25:46 of ice time together, they’re under 50 percent in every possession-based metric and are also being outscored 3-0. If this line continues to struggle against Detroit, it’ll be interesting to see how much longer Jeremy Colliton keeps it together.
  • For all the scrutiny of Adam Boqvist over the first week of the season, some of the possession numbers suggest it may not be quite as bad. Among the six defenseman who’ve played for the Blackhawks this season, he owns the best xGF% at 55.01 and the best SCF% at 56.25. He’s also dead-even at high danger chances with five for and against. With Boqvist starting in the offensive zone more than any other blue-liner (75 oZS%), those numbers could probably be higher but also suggest the Blackhawks are still generating some offense while he’s on the ice.
  • Ian Mitchell has looked the part through four games but that hasn’t been enough to overcome an ugly statistical start for him and his most frequent partner, Calvin de Haan. Mitchell has been on the ice for six goals against at 5-on-5 play and while de Haan is at five, with neither being on the ice when Chicago has scored a 5-on-5 goal. Virtually every Blackhawks D-pairing will probably be on the negative side of this ledger at the end of the season, but the Mitchell-de Haan pairing is the team’s nadir at the moment.
  • Here’s where the Blackhawks sit in team-based possession numbers, all at 5-on-5 play:
    14th in CF% at 50.65
    13th in SF% at 50.81
    21st in xGF% at 47.30
    17th in SCF% at 49.09
    28th in HDCF% at 39.22
    29th in save percentage at 85.71
    30th in PDO at 0.889 (that’s last place with Dallas omitted because it hasn’t played yet)

The probably-too-soon conclusion from all of this? The Blackhawks aren’t too far behind their opponents in the quantity of their possession, but the quality of that possession — along with the quality of their goaltending — is well behind that of other teams in the league through the first week.

But that’s probably not an earth-shattering revelation, is it?