After a disappointing loss against the New York Rangers Saturday, the Blackhawks don’t have to go far to face their next opponent: the New York Islanders at the newly finished UBS Arena. The Sunday night game is the second of a back-to-back and the final game of the Blackhawks’ current three-game road trip, where they are 1-1-0 so far.
The Islanders are also playing in their second game in two nights, coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. It was the Islanders’ tenth straight loss but their best offensive effort over that span — although none of the goals came at 5-on-5. In fact, the Islanders have only scored seven goals during 5-on-5 play in their last 10 games, easily the worst in the NHL where the next nearest team — the Philadelphia Flyers — have 12 goals. They’ve managed another four goals on special teams in that span, but three of those goals came Saturday night.
Mathew Barzal — who is tied for team lead with 11 points (5 G, 6 A) — is the only player driving offense recently with 6 points (2 G, 4 A) over the last 10 games. No one else on the team has more than two points in that span. Brock Nelson — who also has 11 points (9 G, 2 A) — has been missing from the lineup for the last four games after he was injured on Nov. 21 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The rest of the team is under double digits for production.
Defensively, the outlook isn’t much better. The Islanders are tied for fifth most goals against at 5-on-5 (25) and overall (38) in the last 10 games — and that’s with their primary starter in net, Ilya Sorokin, putting up an impressive .925 save-percentage. The issue is that the Islanders, who’ve been a strong, low-event defensive team in prior seasons, have been mediocre or worse in limiting chances against. It hasn’t helped that they’ve been without one of their best defensemen in Ryan Pulock, who’s been sidelined since sustaining a lower-body injury on Nov. 15 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders’ woes on the ice have been exacerbated by the fact they were battling through absences due to COVID, so much so that they had to have two games postponed due to an outbreak.
Similarly to the Islanders, the Blackhawks still haven’t found their offensive groove. Their 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday was the eighth game in their last 10 in which they’ve produced two or fewer goals in regulation. And while the Blackhawks have looked better the last two games — they generated double-digit high-danger chances against the Capitals and Rangers — they still go long periods without chances and/or the chances don’t seem particularly dangerous. So the Blackhawks seem to be making progress, but there’s still work to be done offensively.
The depth is also still lacking as a bulk of the offense in the last 10 games is coming from Patrick Kane (9 points), Alex DeBrincat (10 points) and Seth Jones (10 points). Next closest producers are four points apiece from Kirby Dach (all assists) and Brandon Hagel (3 G, 1 A).
Conversely, the Blackhawks are trending quicker in a positive direction defensively. At 5-on-5 in their last 10 games, they’re still being out possessed — 22nd in shot attempts against per 60 — but they’ve definitely improved in suppressing chances — 17th in scoring chances and 6th least high danger chances against per 60.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks are still just below average for expected goals against, but they’re improving and now limiting overall shot attempts against, which will continue to be a key for this team going forward.
The defensemen shuffle continues as Riley Stillman was activated from injured reserve on Sunday morning, making him officially able to play. Wyatt Kalynuk was reassigned to Rockford.
Blackhawks activate Riley Stillman off IR, send Kalynuk to Rockford. Ian Mitchell stays.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) December 5, 2021
Blackhawks — Statistic — Islanders
46.05% (29th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 46.15% (28th)
43.30% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 48.57% (20th)
2.13 (30th) — Goals per game — 1.89 (31st)
3.17 (24th) — Goals against per game — 3.00 (19th)
48.6% (21st) — Faceoffs — 51.6% (9th)
16.9% (23rd) — Power play — 13.5% (29th)
84.4% (9th) — Penalty kill — 83.9% (12th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Hagel — Toews — Kane
DeBrincat — Dach — Strome
Kubalik — Borgstrom — R. Johnson/Khaira
Hardman — Slavin — Carpenter
C. Jones — S. Jones
Gustafsson — de Haan
Stillman — Mitchell
Lee — Barzal — Bailey
Bellows — Pageau — Palmieri
Beauvillier — Czarnik —Wahlstrom
Martin — Parise — Clutterbuck
Pelech — Mayfield
Greene — Dobson
Chara — Aho
How to watch
When: 6:30 p.m. CT
Where: UBS Arena, Elmont
TV: NBC Sports Chicago