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Numbers Munchers: Recapping the 2021 Blackhawks team performance

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It’s not pretty, folks.

NHL: APR 27 Lightning at Blackhawks Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we’ve started diving into the season that was for the 2021 Blackhawks, most of the articles have focused on the players on a more individual basis. More of that is on the way. But before we get too far down that rabbit hole, it felt like a good time for another installment of our “Number Munchers” series to explore more of the team-based statistics.

And — surprise, surprise — they weren’t so good.

For comparison’s sake, here’s how the Blackhawks fared at 5-opn-5 play during the 70 games of the ‘19-20 NHL season, with all data coming from Natural Stat Trick:

Shot Attempts For (CF%): 48.45 (22nd)
Goals For (GF%): 50.0 (18th)
Expected Goals For (xGF%): 46.93 (27th)
Scoring Chances For (SCF%): 47.46 (27th)
High-Danger Chances For (HDCF%): 45.75 (29th)
Shots For Percentage (SF%): 47.46 (27th)

The numbers above aren’t so great, are they? Well, here’s some bad news: every single one of those numbers was worse in the 2021 season:

CF%: 45.85 (30th)
GF%: 44.44 (24th)
xGF%: 43.96 (31st)
SCF%: 44.47 (30th)
HDCF%: 42.60 (31st)
SF%: 45.60 (31st)

The most challenging part of this entire operation is trying to find something that the 2021 Blackhawks did well. The ‘19-20 version of the team played high-event hockey, so they generated a ton of offensive opportunities as well. They just allowed more, which resulted in Chicago being on the wrong side of all the possession-based statistics.

For example, the ‘19-20 Blackhawks had some offense-based rates that were encouraging. Expressed at a rate of per 60 minutes, the Blackhawks were:

  • 13th in shot attempts (55.96)
  • 13th in shots on goal (30.97)
  • 12th in expected goals (2.34)
  • 10th in scoring chances (27.30)
  • 13th in high-danger chances for (10.89)

This season? Not so much.

  • 27th in shot attempts (49.22)
  • 24th in shots on goal (27.78)
  • 28th in expected goals (2.01)
  • 24th in scoring chances (23.63)
  • 27th in high-danger chances (9.03)

I’d look at the defensive rates but, given the numbers above, it’s probably best for the mental health of everyone involved if we skip that part.

Chicago’s special teams offered some encouragement on one side (the power play) and discouragement on the other (penalty kill).

The power play, in particular, was very good in the earlier stages of the season. Before the March 13 game against the Panthers — the midpoint of the 56-game schedule — Chicago’s power play was No. 3 in the league at 31.0 percent. It slumped in the second half, though, dropping to 11th place at 21.7 percent. As for the penalty kill, it was ranked 24th at 73.9 percent after 28 games and then ended the season in 28th at 76.82.

Despite that high ranking, though, the power play was well below league average in most categories, with the stats below again expressed at a rate of per 60 minutes:

  • 25th in shot attempts (81.05)
  • 23rd in shots on goal (46.91)
  • 26th in expected goals (5.54)
  • 15th in scoring chances (47.29)
  • 19th in high-danger chances (17.35)

Chicago’s power play was 10th in the league with a shooting percentage of 15.45, so it appears the Blackhawks talented bevy of shooters (Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik among them) were able to light the lamp with some regularity despite the Blackhawks not generating much offensive activity — relatively speaking — while on the man advantage.

The penalty kill numbers can revolve around one key statistic. In the ‘19-20 season, Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner combined to produce the No. 3 save percentage in the league while shorthanded at 0.889. This season, the trio of Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia produced a 0.859, good for 11th in the league. And that drop-off was a large reason why Chicago’s penalty kill percentage dropped from ninth in ‘19-20 at 82.13 to 24th in ‘21.

The Blackhawks were near the middle of the pack or just slightly above in terms of how well they limited opposing power plays, as indicated by the numbers below:

  • 13th in shot attempts against (94.12)
  • 7th in shots on goal against (56.93)
  • 10th in expected goals against (6.71)
  • 10th in scoring chances against (50.73)
  • 14th in high-danger chances against (19.28)

From all of those numbers above, the real question becomes how the Blackhawks go from a team that was so bad in so many categories to one at least approaching mediocrity in hopes of returning the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2022.

Yes, it was a rebuilding season and younger players and all that, but ... it’s also difficult to look at all of those numbers and not have some concern for the long-term product being assembled right now.