Blackhawks top-line dominance in Game 1 vs. Oilers was throwback to past playoff performances

A top line, centered by Jonathan Toews, dismantling an opponent? We’ve seen that movie before.

It didn’t feel like a typical hockey game, considering the puckdrop came at 2:30 p.m. It also didn’t help the game was played on the first day of August, a time of year when the hockey world is usually on a collective vacation.

But then the Blackhawks top line, centered by Jonathan Toews, turned a postseason game into a one-line domination.

It made Saturday’s game feel like a trip back in time.

Sparked by rookie sensation Dominik Kubalik’s five points (two goals, three assists), Chicago cruised to a 6-4 victory over the Oilers in Game 1 of their best-of-five qualifying round series.

It was the top line of Toews, Kubalik and Brandon Saad which provided Edmonton’s biggest headaches with a dominant possession performance. In 7:36 of five-on-five ice time, the trio combined for:

  • An 11-2 advantage in Corsi events (84.62 CF%)
  • A 10-1 shot advantage
  • A 6-1 scoring chance advantage
  • A 2-0 goal advantage/

That trio’s performance was largely responsible for Edmonton’s top four defensemen — Adam Larsson (26.32 CF%), Oscar Klefbom (37.50), Darnell Nurse (38.24) and Ethan Bear (43.75) — all finishing well below the 50/50 line in possession.

One game isn’t enough to lump this new top line in with the 2013 line of Patrick Sharp-Toews-Marian Hossa or the 2015 version with Saad-Toews-Hossa that was a menace throughout the regular season and even more so in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But watching Chicago’s top line manhandle its opponents was a throwback to what those vaunted trios from recent memory consistently did every night.

Saturday’s effort was likely its best, but there have been other strong performances from the Saad-Toews-Kubalik trio:

  • During a March 3 win over the Ducks, it combined for a 65.52 CF% and an 8-6 scoring chance advantage
  • During a March 5 win over these same Oilers, it combined for a 52.94 CF%, a 57.32 expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and a 6-4 scoring chance advantage/

But it also posted a 28.57 CF% in a 3-2 overtime win over the Panthers on Feb. 29, and a 21.43 CF% in a 5-2 win over the Lightning on Feb. 27.

Those up-and-down performances are reflected in the possession stats from the regular season for the Saad-Toews-Kubalik line, which aren’t too far from the team rates.

In 131:07 of five-on-five play this season, the trio combined for:

  • 49.63 CF% (1.92 above the team rate)
  • 44.49 xGF% (2.54 below the team rate)
  • 47.01 Scoring Chances For % (0.26 above the team rate)
  • 42.11 High-Danger Scoring Chances For % (3.79 below the team rate)/

In many ways, this trio’s fortunes are indicative of the entirety of the 2019-20 Blackhawks. When everything is clicking, it can be a sight to behold, as it was during Saturday’s destruction of the Oilers. But there are also games where the passes don’t click, the shots don’t find the back of the net and the puck finds its way into the Blackhawks end of the ice without leaving for long stretches of time.

Which version of the Blackhawks shows up during the upcoming days and (potentially) weeks will be the ultimate decider of this team’s fate.

Stats from