It feels like it’s been an eternity since the last NHL head coach was fired. Never mind we had a glut of them them back a few weeks ago that should have left the blood thirstiest fans sated for the entire season, apparently the appetite is back and out do destroy cities like the blob. Joel Quenville who not long ago served as the flag officer on the good ship Stanley Cup Champion is under fire. Six game losing streaks will do that. I’m of two minds before I dig into the numbers and research this as I write this post.
- The team isn’t actually that deep to begin with. Yes you’ve got Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp up front, and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as rearguards. But after that? Essentially the team has two first lines, two fourth lines, and not a great deal after the top two defensemen.
- Even good coaches do get stale. This would be a fairly short amount of time for that to happen, but even Bowman and Cherry were booted
While a lot of people are (justifiably) critical of the +/- stat, it does have it’s uses. In particular the road/home split and my favorite parsing; how it compares to the teams goal differential. Coming into today’s action the Chicago BlackHawks have a goal differential of +8. Since the ice time of defensemen is most important among skaters in keeping pucks out of the net here are the total +/- numbers and what they really mean for the Chicago defense.
- Brent Seabrook +10. By my shaky math that’s 125% of the teams overall goal differential. With 21 points in 50 games he’s third among the teams defenders in points. At .42 points per game he’s producing steadily, he’s not likely to match his best season, but should handily clear his worst.
- Duncan Keith +8. The math on that’s easy even for me. With 38% of his points coming on the powerplay, and hence not affecting the +/- a very good number in comparison to the team. He’s running at .56points per game which is better than a lot of forwards, like Seabrook this is about an average year offensively.
- Niklas Hjalmarsson +5 Not bad, by comparison Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs who plays about the same number of minutes on a team with a similar goal differential is a +9 on a +11 team. Gardiner gets powerplay time but their even strength points are nearly identical.
- Steve Montador +4. He’s where it starts to get interesting. Unlike any of the defenders above him, he plays no short handed time. This means he’s unlikely to be scored upon in that vulnerable shift after a penalty kill expires and tired defenders get off the ice, and lines shakeout to hopefully surge offensively. 43% of his points come on powerplay. What stands out among the admittedly ambiguous real time stats is not his turnovers, but his takeaways. Just 6 of them. Only O’Donnell of the top six who has played 14 games less has less of them and is in single digits in this category.
- Sean O’Donnell -5. This is a number that doesn’t bear thinking about. Admittedly O’Donnell has never been an offensive force, and isn’t shirking in that duty by past comparison. After Montador he plays the least PK time of any of the BlackHawks top six defensemen.
- Nick Leddy -10. Eep. Given that he’s third in ice time, where as O’Donnell and Montador are fifth and sixth, this is a bit bad. Worse, he’s 2nd in scoring for defensemen in Chicago.
All of that is interesting, but he big ah ha moment of perusing the numbers of the defensemen is the split between home and road. Only Seabrook is a even on the road, everyone else is a negative. Keith goes from +13 at home to -5 on the road, Leddy is even at home and goes to -10 on the road, the rest of the defense tells a similar tale. This probably means that when Quenville can get the matchup that allows him to cover up or the faults of various defenders he’s doing a pretty solid job.
The biggest question on the backend of any team isn’t the defense. That’s the second biggest, but the single largest contributing factor is the goaltending. The single biggest indicator of how well the goalie plays is the save percentage. Some goal keepers for comparison, 24th in Sv% Curtis Sanford 28gp .915 sv% team 30th place, 10th in Sv% Jimmy Howard 44gp .924 sv% team in 1st. Both of these goalies play in the same division as the BlackHawks. Ray Emery 38th in Sv% .901 Sv%, Corey Crawford 41st in Sv% .900 sv%.
The team may be running through a bad spell, and the split between road and home defense isn’t pretty. The six game losing streak is alarming, but it probably won’t surprise you to know five of those games were on the road. The home game was against the Nashville Predators who are a tough enough team that a loss to them while not good is acceptable. If appears the two biggest problems with the Blackhawks are bad goaltending, and a defense that has issues getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Getting the puck out does require assistance from the forwards, and there have been seven different rookie forwards on the roster at some point in the season. Issue number one though is that the team has two passable backup goaltenders and no
clear number one. A goalie who can make one or two more saves gives the skaters time to pitch in and shovel the puck out of the zone.