Guest Blogger : Hawks rolling, but reason for concern

Guest Blogger : Hawks rolling, but reason for concern

Happy Holidays Blackhawk fans.  You all must be feeling pretty good about the team after a convincing 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.  Well, to put a damper on your holidays, Nick Shepkowski has decided to write a guest blog for the Red Light District.  For those who don't know, Nick works with me on the McNeil and Spiegel Show (Monday through Friday 9am-1pm) on 670 the Score.  He is our Associate Producer and numbers expert.

To me, Nick is one of the top statistical minds in Chicago Sports Radio.  His ability to read within the numbers and present them in a clear, concise way make him invaluable to the show.

I asked Nick if he'd be willing to write a piece on the Blackhawks for the holiday break.  In exchange,  I'd pick up his McDonald's Sausage Burritos one of these morning.

He agreed.

Here's what Nick found out about the Hawks.  Enjoy!

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by : Nick Shepkowski

The Blackhawks are rolling right along after their latest victory, a 5-1 win over Montreal at the United Center on Wednesday night.  It was the 22nd win of the year for the Hawks who sit atop the NHL with a league-high 48 points, three more than Minnesota for the top-spot in the Western Conference.

Everything is coming up roses for the Hawks, right?

As well as the Blackhawks have been playing and despite what the standings indicate, I’m not entirely sold on this year’s team just yet.

Why the hesitation?  A few reasons:

1)  Goal Differential

A +16 through 35 games is respectable but compared to recent Western Conference champions, it’s not yet anywhere near where it needs to be.  Through 35 games the Hawks are outscoring opponents by .45 goals per game.  Plenty respectable but plenty of room for improvement compared to recent conference champions:

2010-11 Canucks (+77 total, .93 per game), 2009-10 Blackhawks (+62, .76 per game), 2008-09 Red Wings (+51, .62 per game), 2007-08 Red Wings (+73, .89 per game).

The good news is the Hawks are a +13 in December with 11 of their next 13 games taking place on United Center ice where they hold a 12-2-3 record this season.

2) Regulation Wins

It goes close to hand-in-hand with goal differential but through 35 games played, 22 wins and 48 points is obviously a strong pair of numbers to have put up.  The concern?  They’ve have won just 18 times in regulation.  The Hawks have benefited much from earning points in non-regulation wins as they’ve won four of the seven shootouts they’ve been a part of.

The Blackhawks are on pace to win 42 games in regulation this season, once again significantly less than recent western conference champions:

2011 Vancouver – 50 regulation wins
2010 Chicago – 52 regulation wins
2009 Detroit – 51 regulation wins
2008 Detroit – 54 regulation wins

3) Penalty Kill

To date the Hawks have successfully killed 78.2% of penalties, fourth worst in the NHL.  This sits as my chief concern as over the past five seasons only five teams have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs after finishing in the bottom five in the league in PK-percentage.  Of those five teams, zero won their first round matchup.

How do you go about fixing these things?  I’m not exactly breaking ground with this thought but until the Blackhawks make a significant upgrade on defense, I can’t buy in.

Duncan Keith hasn’t performed anywhere near the same level he did during his 2009-10 Norris Trophy campaign, but it’s not just on him as we’ve seen a significant drop-off in the play of Niklas Hjalmarsson as well.  Once said to remind Scotty Bowman of Nicklas Lidstrom, the Hammer is much closer to the Eric Weinrich type who is still respectable but not yet anywhere near the 3.5 million dollars he’s earning this season.

The good news is obviously that the Blackhawks currently sit in first place in the  western conference despite the said issues with plenty of time remaining to improve.

Comments

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  • Nick ... Good points !!! They've been kicked about repeatedly by my hockey loving friends.

    About the second point ... one of the biggest differences between this year and last is that, esp early in the season, the Hawks gave up a ton of wins in the 3rd period. That, coupled with Turco's miserable record in shootouts, was a major reason we sweated out making the playoffs.

    Both Niemi and Crawford have proven to be fabulous in shootouts. Emery's 1st SO was a disaster ... he's shown marked improvement since.

    The defensive and PK struggles are troubling indeed. Equally as important is taking 7 penalties against Pittsburgh. That does not include Scott - as it is mind boggling that Engelland did not get a penalty for his vicious hit on Kruger. The PK has been "better" ... but still a long way to go.

  • Although the work is thorough, hockey doesn't lend itself well to statistical trends. It is more a momentum sport than any other. Just this season to date the Hawks are now in their third incarnation of who they are. With Sharpie a typically streaky player, and Joels penchant for juggling lines, I doubt this most recent incarnation, or the next, will be the one we see come playoff time.

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    Trends do lend themselves in hockey, the problem with Nick's projections are he is using the whole season to make those projections. When making projections you have to use the latest trend, either a linear trend or take in account the last 10 game trend. To assume everything will play out exactly as the first 36 is just a bad way to project. The projections Nick gave are something on the 8th grade level.

  • Dion, would you like his 8th grade level projections better if he used the trend of the last five games? It seems to me that he may have been a bit prescient.
    Looking at the whole is seeing the sum of the parts. It would appear that that some of the parts are lacking especially with the most recent developments.

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