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No, the Blackhawks underlying numbers have not been improving

A respectful — but also fervent — retort to a segment that aired on NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday night.

Carolina Hurricanes v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

For those who caught the pregame show on NBC Sports Chicago before Wednesday’s Chicago Blackhawks game against the Carolina Hurricanes, reporter Charlie Roumeliotis had a segment which later made its way to YouTube under the title, “Blackhawks improving statistically in some underlying numbers.”

Reasonable people can disagree, so let’s consider the information below a respectful — yet fervent and adamant — retort of, “No, they absolutely are not.”

Here’s the segment in question:

As always, all data comes from the incredible resource that is Natural Stat Trick.

The first issue arrives in the first five seconds, when Roumeliotis says that stats are for all situations, adding: “If you look at the 5-on-5 numbers, it’s still a work in progress.”

That work has been ongoing for about three seasons now and shows no signs of improving, which is basically the entire problem with this team during the Jeremy Colliton era, no matter who’s been on the roster.

The sample size is also adjusted to exclude the opening three games and, for the sake of continuity of data, we’ll also exclude Wednesday’s loss to the Hurricanes in this reply.

Start with the first stat above: high-danger chances against, where the Blackhawks are second in this data sample with a rate of 7.96 allowed per 60 minutes of play — second-best in the league — that’s good! They’re also generating 11.66 per 60 minutes, which is 10th in the league. Expressed as a percentage, the Blackhawks have been responsible for 59.42 percent of high-danger chances generated in this 7-game stretch, which is second in the league — again: that’s good.

But including all situations in this one statistical analysis can be faulty because Chicago entered Wednesday’s game with the league’s No. 5 penalty kill and No. 6 power play: special teams have not been the issue.

It’s been during 5-on-5 play when this team has been getting throttled.

Let’s do some math:

  • Chicago has a total ice time of 663:55 this season, with 505:29 under the category of 5-on-5 play (this excludes special teams play as well as time with goalies pulled for an extra attacker by either team)
  • Divide the 5-on-5 ice time (converted to a decimal of 505.483) into the total ice time (converted to 663.917) to reveal that the Blackhawks have played 76.1 percent of this season at 5-on-5 play

Seems like a rather significant portion of the game to focus on, doesn’t it?

The video above opened with commentary on high-danger chances, but it’s far from the only category tracked by Natural Stat Trick’s data, so let’s see what some of the other numbers look like, again using the 7-game sample referenced above:

  • In all situations, the Blackhawks share of Corsi events (aka attempted shots on goal, expressed as CF% at the site) is at 49.14 percent (20th in the league). During 5-on-5 play, it goes down to 47.40 (25th)
  • In all situations, the Blackhawks share of shots on goal is at 48.11 percent (20th). During 5-on-5 play, it goes down to 45.43 (27th).
  • In all situations, the Blackhawks share of expected goals is at 51.34 (13th). During 5-on-5 play, it goes down to 46.03 (25th).
  • In all situations, the Blackhawks share of scoring chances is at 51.21 (13th). During 5-on-5 play, it goes down to 47.81 (23rd).
  • In all situations over this 7-game sample, the Blackhawks were outscored 25-15, for a goal share of just 37.5 percent — only the league-worst and winless Arizona Coyotes ranked lower. During 5-on-5 play, the Blackhawks kick the Coyotes out of the league basement with a goal share of just 29.63, being outscored 19-8.

The segment above also boasts the Blackhawks’ rate of scoring chances at 30.14 per 60 minutes in all situations, which is seventh in the league. Strip that down to 5-on-5 play and it falls to 19th in the league at 26.71.

There’s also brief discussion of some 5-on-5 team stats, such as shooting percentage, save percentage, and PDO. Let’s do some more math with this data:

  • Again using this 7-game stretch, the Hawks have just eight goals on 144 shots during 5-on-5 play, a percentage of 5.56 that is 28th in the league (this appears to conflict with the data they have on-screen during the segment but here’s where I got mine from for accuracy’s sake).
  • Chicago goalies have allowed 19 goals on 173 shots, a save percentage of 89.02 that is 30th in the league.
  • Adding the save and shot percentages together — which is how PDO is calculated — yields a league worst total of 0.946.

If the Hawks shot and save percentages were at the league average levels over this 7-game span, how much of a difference would that make?

Fortunately, math let’s us figure that out, using Hockey Reference’s league average figures from the 2021 season of 9.2 shot percentage and .908 save percentage.

  • If the Blackhawks had scored on 9.2 percent of their 5-on-5 shots, they’d be at about 13 goals scored
  • If the Blackhawks goalies had stopped .908 percent of the 173 shots they faced, that’s 157 saves or 16 goals against

So even if the Blackhawks were shooting and saving pucks at a league average, they’d still have a goal differential of minus-4 in this 7-game sample.

That’s better than the minus-11 differential it’s at right now for 5-on-5 play of this 7-game span but it’s still not any good.

It doesn’t bring me any joy to pass along this information. But it bears repeating once again: this team is thoroughly having its ass kicked during 5-on-5 play just about every single time it’s stepped on the ice and it’s been a recurring theme during every season of the Colliton era.