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Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have been fortunate over the last decade because they haven't had to worry about the most important position in the sport: goaltending.

They've been able to rely on Corey Crawford ever since he broke into the NHL, but it took a while for the league to appreciate the role he played in their two Stanley Cup victories. When he went down with a concussion in December of 2017, it really opened eyes on just how valuable he was — and is — to the team.

The Blackhawks, unfortunately, are back in that same boat where they're living life without Crawford. But they're in a much better place now than they were a year ago because of the emergence of Collin Delia.

On the surface, his numbers are great: a 2.49 goals against average and .939 save percentage in six starts this season.

But the underlying numbers are spectacular. Let's run through them, courtesy of naturalstattrick.com and corsica.hockey:

— Delia is facing an average of 40.8 shots per game over his six starts and nobody is seeing more rubber from up close than him, with an average shot distance of 32.1 feet. And yet, his high-danger save percentage at 5-on-5 is .919.

(For comparison's sake, Pekka Rinne, the 2017-18 Vezina Trophy winner, ranks first among starting goaltenders in that department this season with a .905 save percentage.)

— Delia is facing an average of 12.7 high-danger chances total per game, which generally comes from the slot area and lower slot. Ten of his 15 goals against have come from there. Five of them have come from the medium-danger area, which is around the high slot. He has a perfect 1.000 save percentage on low-danger shots, which essentially comes from anywhere else.

 

— Delia's goals saved above average at 5-on-5 is 8.58, meaning that's how many goals he has saved his team relative to if a league average goaltender were put in his situation. That's more than a goal per game, which is an absurd rate.

When relayed some of these numbers to Delia, he responded like someone who still isn't satisfied with where his game is at and is constantly looking for ways to improve.

"I think just preparing before the game, we might have some breakdowns and my job is to be there," Delia said. "I can't necessarily mitigate breakdowns, but I can be there to come up big, make a big save here and there. But there's even been a few times where a couple breakaways have gone in that I think I could save and it's my responsibility to take ownership of my role and I like doing it."

One of Delia's tougher tests came on Monday in a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames. The Blackhawks gave up 23 high-danger chances (11 in the third period), which was tied for their second-most of the season. Delia stopped 20 of them. He was the reason the Blackhawks were in it til the final minute.

"I look back at that Calgary game, it's 3-2 and he made some big, big saves to keep it at 3-2 and give us a chance to be able to tie it up late," Patrick Kane said. "That's huge when you get that from your goaltender. It gives the team a lot of momentum and keeps you in the game, obviously. I think the biggest thing with him, you watch him and he's calm in there, it doesn't seem like he's ever moving too much or out of position. He's calm, he reads the shot and he's able to stop it when he sees it most of the time."

History indicates a regression is coming at some point. But not necessarily because Delia can't keep playing at this high of a level. It's because the percentage won't always favor the goaltenders if the high-danger chances continue to increase.

The Blackhawks, who have allowed by far the most high-danger chances at 5-on-5 this season, know they have to cut those quality scoring chances down and tighten up for their goaltenders.

"I’m not looking for regression," coach Jeremy Colliton said of Delia. "We’re trying to help him prepare as best he can to give us a chance to win every night. That’s separate from how the team’s playing. The team needs to defend hard. We want to give up less shots. We want to decrease the quality of the chance against, and that’s an ongoing process. We’re not thinking, ‘Oh, he plays well when he gets a lot of work.' That’s not what we’re looking for. But there’s no reason why he can’t keep playing the way he is."

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