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Number Munchers: Quantifying the Blackhawks’ dreadful start

An 0-2-1 start looks even worse when stats get involved.

Sullivan Column Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

That certainly wasn’t the script for the start of this season, was it?

After an abysmal trio of games in four nights, the Chicago Blackhawks are off to an 0-2-1 start without offering much of anything in the way of optimism from those three defeats.

Regrettably, folks, there’s not much to recap from this three-game skid that’s going to raise any moods around here. In fact, this could very well make things worse. But let’s try and quantify some of the numbers from this opening slate of games to see what’s been behind this horrendous opening.

Let’s start with a positive because it is a Monday morning, after all: the Blackhawks special teams have been quite good. Chicago’s penalty kill is a perfect 8-for-8, one of seven teams that still hasn’t allowed a power play goal against. Chicago’s own power play is 4-for-11 (36 percent), which is No. 8 in the league.

Based on data from Natural Stat Trick, though, the Hawks have skated only 17:52 with the man advantage and spent 13:09 on the penalty kill. Conversely, they’ve spent 142:07 playing 5-on-5 hockey, which is about 78 percent of the cumulative 181:57 ice time from the first three games of the season.

So, that 5-on-5 play would seem pretty damn important, because it’s over three-quarters of the action. And this is where the news starts getting real bad, real fast:

The Blackhawks are being outscored 11-2 during 5-on-5 play this season.

Let’s say that one more time, just for full comprehension.

THE 2021-22 BLACKHAWKS ARE BEING OUTSCORED ELEVEN TO TWO DURING 5-ON-5 PLAY THIS SEASON.

Also, The first 5-on-5 goal was scored in the third period of a game that Chicago was trailing 4-1. The second? Third period of a 5-1 game. The Blackhawks only two goals were garbage time tallies.

Dive deeper into the 5-on-5 numbers from NST and it only gets worse:

  • 43.10 percent share of shot attempts (27th)
  • 41.13 percent share of shots on goal (29th)
  • 33.03 percent share of expected goals (31st)
  • 37.40 percent share of scoring chances (31st)
  • 33.33 percent share of high-danger chances (30th)

This has been one of the lingering, consistent gripes of the Jeremy Colliton era in Chicago: they’ve routinely had their asses handed to them by opponents during 5-on-5 play, with only brilliant goaltending or a red-hot power play acting as their saving graces. Based on the paragraph above, the special teams are about the only things that this team is doing well — and it’s clearly not enough.

What feels most alarming about all of those numbers is that the Blackhawks are still being wildly outplayed even when chasing multi-goal deficits. Friday’s game against the Devils stayed close for the most part. The other two? Not so much. Colorado nabbed a 3-0 lead by the 9:34 mark of the first and led by at least two goals for the rest of that game. On Saturday, Pittsburgh took a 4-0 lead just 11:25 into the game and Chicago never got closer than three on the scoreboard. Yet the possession numbers against the Avalanche and against the Penguins remained firmly in the opponent’s favor. This Chicago team is having its teeth kicked in during the first period and not mounting any sort of worthwhile retort.

Yeah, sure: small sample size and all that. The Blackhawks have had to play against three teams who were skating in their home opener. Colorado plays at altitude. The travel schedule to start wasn’t kind and a back-to-back isn’t easy, either. Pick an excuse, they’re all out there.

It’d be much easier to stomach if it wasn’t the same damn thing we’ve been watching for several years now.