Blackhawks

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

During the Blackhawks' training camp festival on Sept. 15, coach Jeremy Colliton discovered a combination he's grown to like in David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. And it's the only trio that's stuck together through training camp and into the regular season.

On paper, it's not a sexy line. But they all bring different elements and it's translating to on-ice success.

When the three of them are on the ice together at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 59.7 percent of the shot attempts, 68.6 of the scoring chances and 76.9 percent of the high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

When they aren't on the ice at even strength? The Blackhawks are controlling 47.6 percent of the shot attempts, 46.2 percent of the scoring chances and 41.7 percent of the high-danger chances. 

Those are ridiculous numbers for a third line, and they're doing it against top competition, too.

On Saturday against Winnipeg, the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line was tasked with going up against the Jets' Big Three of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and held them to three shots on goal for and three against in 14:06 of 5-on-5 ice time together. And on Monday against Edmonton, it kept one of the best lines in hockey in check, with Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid recording a minus-6 shot attempt differential in 15:25 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

The biggest mistake Colliton has made this season was separating the trio in the home opener after Kubalik scored a goal and recorded five shots on goal in the first period. He wanted to get the first line going and provide a spark by rewarding Kubalik, but the third line was dominant in the opening 20 minutes — it generated 10 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in only 4:30 together — and moving Kubalik away from Kampf and Saad really affected both lines in a negative way.

But don't expect Colliton to make that same mistake anytime soon. He learned his lesson and that's the last line he's going to touch if he's looking for a shakeup.

"They all just got real big motors, big engine," Colliton said. "They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient. Obviously like Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He's a horse there. He's really hard to get the puck off, he transports it from D zone to the offensive zone, he can make those plays.

"I think Kampy is a workhorse. He takes a lot of responsibility defensively and can transport the puck from one end to another. Then you got Kubby, he's got a bomb. I've been very impressed with his play away from the puck. That's been a surprise for me. So now he can play on that line because he does so many responsible things. He wins a lot of races, he's a great forechecker. So, pleased with that line."

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Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

lehner_crawford_ap.jpg
AP

Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

LAS VEGAS — The first day of NHL free agency is always exciting for hockey fans, particularly the first hour when most of the moves are announced at a rapid rate. Last offseason, the Blackhawks had a quiet few hours before dropping the hammer on the most surprising signing of the day, Robin Lehner, to a one-year deal.

“I think we have the best 1-2 punch in the league is the way I look at it right now,” GM Stan Bowman said on July 1. “I certainly feel really comfortable going into next season, whether Corey Crawford’s in net or Robin Lehner’s in net.”

So does the entire city of Chicago.

More than one month into the 2019-20 season, the goaltending tandem between Crawford and Lehner is exactly what the Blackhawks envisioned it would be. That’s what happens when you pair a Vezina Trophy finalist with a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

"We got two guys who are outstanding," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think they're both going real well now and that's a huge advantage for us no matter who's in the net, we're getting a chance to win. It gives our guys a chance to come through offensively, so they've been big for us."

After starting the season 1-4-0 with a 3.67 goals-against average and .888 percentage, Crawford has been lights out since the calendar flipped to November. He’s 2-0-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in his last four starts, which includes a 39-save performance in a 5-3 win over the Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Lehner has been one of the league’s best from the beginning. His .934 save percentage ranks second among goaltenders with at least six appearances and his goals saved above average at 5-on-5 ranks fourth-best, according to Natural Stat Trick. Crawford's goals saved above average of 4.21 puts him at ninth.

And this is despite the fact the Blackhawks are giving up the most shots on goal per game (37.1), second-most high danger chances per 60 minutes at even strength (13.1) and third-most scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength (29.2).

While the dynamic may have been awkward at first, both goaltenders appear to be making the best of the circumstances and view it as healthy competition.

"I mean, he's doing a great job," Crawford said of Lehner. "Definitely keeping us in games or being a big factor in some wins. I think both of us are just trying to be at our best when we get the chance."

The challenging part of the situation is getting both guys a fair amount of starts. Crawford has been vocal about preferring to start regularly — “it’s a little bit easier when you keep playing games in a row” — and Lehner no doubt feels the same.

"They both want to play 60 games, 80 games maybe,” Colliton said. “That's part of the team. [Patrick Kane] wants to play 60 minutes. It's how it is. Ultimately, we want to make decisions that help the team win and part of that is keeping both guys fresh, keeping both guys playing at a high level and I think that's going to be a benefit for us as the season goes on."

It’s a good problem to have if you’re the Blackhawks, especially if Crawford and Lehner are at the top of their games at the same time like they are right now.

"It's great," Calvin de Haan said. "I think goaltending's the most important position. If you're not keeping the puck out of the net, you're not going to win a lot of games. But those guys are giving us a chance every night and it's really evident the past few weeks here."

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks overcome two-goal deficit to beat Golden Knights for first time

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USA Today

Four takeaways: Blackhawks overcome two-goal deficit to beat Golden Knights for first time

LAS VEGAS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday:

1. Blackhawks beat Golden Knights for first time ever

The Blackhawks entered this matchup the only team that hadn't beaten the Golden Knights since they entered the NHL in the 2017-18 season. They were 0-5-2 in the first seven games against them, despite having plenty of opportunities to beat them. As recently as Oct. 22, the Blackhawks were 1:33 away from shutting out Vegas before eventually falling in a shootout.

Despite giving up the first two goals, the Blackhawks rallied to score five straight and hung on for their first victory against the Golden Knights. They also won back-to-back games for the first time this season and improved to 3-0-1 in their last four games.

"It's good for the guys, good confidence boost," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "A reminder that we're trending the right way. By no means are we perfect. We got lots of work to do but that's a good team and they're going to be a top team this year, no question, and we took two points in their barn."

2. Wild end-to-end action

The Blackhawks know that their new schematic change will make for some entertaining hockey games. It will be high risk, high reward and fast-paced. And that's exactly what Wednesday was: a track meet between two teams that like to play quick.

The Blackhawks and Golden Knights combined for 116 shot attempts, 68 shots on goal, 59 total scoring chances, 36 high-danger chances (according to Natural Stat Trick) and eight goals. Each team also had a penalty shot, but Zack Smith rang his shot off the crossbar 44 seconds into the game, and Jonathan Marchessault missed on his in the second period.

"Tonight was kind of a track meet," Calvin de Haan said. "We were taking a lot of odd-man rushes here and there, but we were creating a ton at the same time. Obviously we just out-capitalized them. These guys play hard at home and we weathered their storm. It was a fun game to play overall, but there's some things we can clean up. But we got the two points and it's about wins and losses."

3. Blackhawks score five in a row

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in each of their previous three games, the Blackhawks found themselves on the other side of that on Wednesday, with the Golden Knights striking twice in the opening 6:29.

But it didn't faze the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane responded 16 seconds after the Golden Knights went up by two with a goal in his fourth consecutive game, and his team later scored the next four. 

Kane (one goal, two assists) and Dylan Strome (one goal, two assists) each had three-point outings while Kirby Dach (one goal, one assist), Alex DeBrincat (two assists) and Zack Smith (two assists) also had multi-point efforts. It was a huge character win for the Blackhawks.

"That was big," Colliton said of rallying from a two-goal deficit. "Because I thought we were close early. ... We had a decent beginning of the game and we're down 2-0. Maybe five games ago that could have gone south on us but I really liked how we responded."

4. An entertaining goaltending battle between two of the best

When they're both on, Corey Crawford and Marc-Andre Fleury are two of the top goaltenders in the league. And their talents were on full display on national television Wednesday night.

Crawford faced 21 high-danger chances and stopped 39 of 42 shots for a save percentage of .929. Fleury was solid also even though the numbers don’t show it, facing 15 high-danger chances and giving up five goals on 26 shots for a save percentage of .808.

The final score was 5-3, but it could've been much higher if it weren't for the two of them matching high quality save after high quality save throughout the game.

"It was a fast game," Crawford said. "They’re a really good hockey team. I think they lost a few before tonight, so obviously they were gonna be hungry. Seems like they always come out hard in the first period there. But we didn’t fold. We just kept playing. This offense is so good that, we get a little sniff and we’re still in the game. ... It was a fun hockey game."

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