The Chicago Blackhawks drop the puck on Jan. 13 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with a 56-game schedule consisting of eight games apiece against the seven other teams in the reimagined Central Division.
Last season, Chicago had a total of 17 games against those teams, posting an 8-8-1 record. That’s not exactly great news, especially when considering how different the Blackhawks lineup is this year with changes at goaltender and lengthy absences for both Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews, the two most important centers in Chicago.
Here’s a more in-depth look at how the Blackhawks fared against those seven teams last season:
The Blackhawks faced the Hurricanes twice in 2019, with both of Chicago’s goaltenders last season getting a shot. Corey Crawford posted a .871 save percentage (SV%) in the Oct. 26 contest and Robin Lehner posted a .906 SV% on Nov. 19.
The Blackhawks moved the puck somewhat well against the Hurricanes, with a 51.47 Corsi-For percentage (CF%), although the Blackhawks’ quality of chances were less than stellar. The Blackhawks had just a 46.42 Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) and 40.48 High Danger Chances For percentage (HDCF%).
Both goals were scored by defensemen, with Connor Murphy his first of the year and Erik Gustafsson scoring his third, both on Nov. 19. Patrick Kane added both primary assists.
That’s not the only thing Kane did in those two games, however.
Sebastian Aho’s cross check may add some drama to these games, as that was the last time these teams faced each other. Jonathan Toews missing some of the season may put a damper on it, on the other hand.
The Blackhawks scored twice on the power play against Columbus, a rarity for the 28th-ranked man advantage. They added a goal in each game, one from Alex DeBrincat and one from Gustafsson.
The Blue Jackets are another team the Blackhawks haven’t faced in a calendar year, however. The last time the teams faced each other, Joonas Korpisalo got injured in the shootout after it appeared the Blue Jackets scored before overtime was through (that goal was not counted). Elvis Merzlikins, coming in cold, allowed a Kane shootout goal that decided the game.
DeBrincat had three points against Columbus last season while Kane had two primary assists and Toews scored in both overtimes (the game winner on Oct. 18 and in the shootout on Dec. 29).
The Blue Jackets limited the Blackhawks during five-on-five play, as Chicago had just a 48.55 CF%, 40.61 xGF% and 42.86 HDCF%.
‘19-20 Record: 37-24-8 (82 points), third place in the Central Division
Blackhawks record against in ‘19-20: 1-1-1
Games: Dallas 2-1 SO win on Nov. 23; Chicago 3-0 win on Nov. 26; Dallas 2-1 win on Feb. 23
Despite two losses, the Blackhawks managed to outscore the eventual Western Conference Champions in three games by a score of 5-4. Two of those goals came on the power play.
DeBrincat had two primary assists against the Stars, Kane had a goal and two assists in those three games and defensemen did a good part of the scoring (Olli Maatta scored his first goal of the season on Nov. 23 and Murphy added an empty-net goal. Gustafsson picked up a primary assist).
The Blackhawks didn’t allow a goal from one of Dallas’s defensemen, but the two forwards who won the game in the shootout on Nov. 23 also scored to win on Feb. 23 (Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski).
Chicago had a 48.49 CF%, 42.03 xGF% and 33.33 percent HDCF% against Dallas. Lehner’s .976 SV% against Dallas on Nov. 23 and Crawford’s .969 SV% (including a shutout) in the other two games did much of the heavy lifting.
Despite the 2019-20 Red Wings being one of the worst teams in modern NHL history, the Blackhawks still found a way to go .500 against them.
Part of that can be attributed to Jonathan Bernier’s .970 SV% in that March defeat. Other factors include the Blackhawks missing Adam Boqvist and having traded away Erik Gustafsson before that game. Gustafsson added a primary assist in the January win and Boqvist scored the game-winning goal.
The Blackhawks had positive stats against Detroit, including a 55.29 CF%, 54.97 xGF% and 57.89 HDCF%. To be fair, Detroit was either last or second-to-last in all three categories last season.
Again, the Blackhawks had to rely on Toews and Kane in the shootout to pull out a win versus Florida. Sergei Bobrovsky was oddly competent against Chicago in regulation (.921 save percentage in the two games) while Lehner allowed four goals in one of his last appearances in Chicago in that January loss.
Kirby Dach had two points (a goal and a primary assist) in that January defeat and Toews had two points (a goal and a secondary assist) in the Leap Day win. Missing both of those players in the first games against Florida (Jan. 17 and 19) will likely hurt.
Drake Caggiula also scored two goals in those two games and he’s now in Arizona. The Panthers rebuilt their own offense this offseason and players like Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov who scored for them against Chicago are no longer with the club. However, Frank Vatrano — who scored a hat trick in the first game — is still in Florida.
Chicago had a 49.71 CF%, 50.53 xGF% and 46.51 HDCF% against Florida last season.
‘19-20 Record: 35-26-8 (78 points), fifth place in the Central Division
Blackhawks record against in ‘19-20: 2-2
Games: Nashville 3-0 win on Oct. 29; Chicago 7-2 win on Nov. 16; Nashville 5-2 win on Jan. 9; Chicago 2-1 OT win on Feb. 21
Chicago’s largest sample size against the 2021 Central Division comes against Nashville. In those games, the Blackhawks had a 44.75 CF%, 39.07 xGF% and 46.51 HDCF%. Not stellar numbers, but scoring and allowing the same number of goals (11) in those four games is an improvement.
The Blackhawks allowed a hat trick to Nick Bonino while getting two-goal performances from Alex Nylander and DeBrincat. Dominik Kubalik also had two goals against the Predators.
Oh yeah, Pekka Rinne also scored the first goaltender goal since 2013 in that Jan. 9 game (side note: isn’t it weird that was only one year ago?).
Rocco Grimaldi scored four primary assists while 2020 Norris winner Roman Josi scored three points. Both Toews and Kane each had four points while Duncan Keith had three. Subban made 31 saves on 34 shots in a Vegas win on Nov. 27.
Tampa Bay had only 21 losses in the regular season, with one coming against the Blackhawks late in the season — a potential confidence boost for Chicago.
Kubalik had a hat trick in that victory, while Brent Seabrook scored one of his three goals during the November game.
The Blackhawks didn’t face Andrei Vasilevskiy in either game, as Tampa opted to use backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney on both occasions. Chicago’s last game against Vasilevskiy was on Jan. 22, 2018: a 40-save shutout by Vasilevskiy.
Against the Lightning, a top-five possession team, Chicago had a 47.09 CF%, 51.89 xGF% and 58.33 HDCF%. The Blackhawks were surprisingly competitive against the Lightning last season. And that’s a good sign, because they’ll need to do that seven times this season.