An improbable streak for the Blackhawks

An improbable streak for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have gone on a six-game winning streak; a most unexpected development.

Consider that:

Six wins is equal to 37.5% of their season win total (16 – out of 49 games) entering the streak.
The winning streak comes on the heels of a fivegame losing streak.
Their previous long winning streak this season had been three games (Dec 1821)

Regardless, here we are. And not surprisingly, the six game streak is the longest current winning streak in the NHL. They now stand at 53 points, tied with the Oilers & Avalanche, though those teams have played one and two games fewer, respectively. Here are the current Wild Card standings.


Current Western Conference Wild Card Standings

                                                GP            Pts

Wild                         54            57
Blues                        52            55

Canucks                    55            55
Avalanche                 53            53
Oilers                       54            53
BLACKHAWKS           55            53
Coyotes                    54            51
Ducks                       55            51
Kings                        54            50

The top two teams get in. However, while they’re two points away from the second Wild Card spot, they’re three points away from last in the conference. It’s a log jam. But consider how much ground they have made up. Look at how the Conference has done during the Blackhawks streak:

Western Conference

January 20-present

                                GP            W-L-OTL   Pts

Blackhawks               6              6-0-0        12

Predators                 6              5-1-0        10

Stars                         5              4-0-1        9

Kings                        5              4-1-0        8

Sharks                      5              4-1-0        8

Blues                        5              4-1-0        8

Jets                          6              3-2-1        7

Wild                         6              2-2-2        6

Coyotes                    7              2-4-1        5

Canucks                    6              2-3-1        5

Flames                     4              2-2-0        4

Oilers                       6              1-3-2        4

Golden Knights        6              2-4-0        4

Avalanche                 5              0-4-1        1

Ducks                       6              0-6-0        0

How have they done it? Two things come to mind.

Power play

During the duration of this winning streak, they have scored 31 goals. Nine of them have come with the man advantage, with the power play converting at a 42.9% clip, which is surprisingly not first in the NHL over that span (the Flyers are 7 for 16 -  43.8% - just a bit better), but excellent regardless. How good has the power play been compared to earlier this season? They have nine power play goals over the last six games. They had nine power play goals through the first 27 games of the season.

The stars have come to play

Over the course of the winning streak (January 20-present), Only 11 players have scored at least 10 points. Only five players have scored at least 11 points. Four of those five wear Blackhawks sweaters.

Most points in NHL (January 20-present)                 GP            G              A              Pts

Patrick Kane                             BLACKHAWKS           6              5              9              14

Jonathan Toews                       BLACKHAWKS           6              6              6              12

Sebastian Aho                          Hurricanes                7              3              8              11

Alex DeBrincat                         BLACKHAWKS           6              4              7              11

Dylan Strome                           BLACKHAWKS           6              3              8              11

OK, now how exactly have they done it? If you knew these things, you wouldn’t think they could possibly be on a streak like this:

Penalty kill

The excellence of the power play has even overshadowed the fact that their penalty kill hasn’t been very good. Over the six-game win streak they have only killed off 75% of penalties, which is tied for 20th in the league over that span. They have allowed at least one power play goal in each of the last 4 games.

So many shots against!

The Blackhawks have allowed 36.5 shots per game during this 6-game win streak… and that’s even higher than their 34.9 average this season entering the streak. However, they are getting off 33.2 per game, compared to 31.2 entering the streak. A much improved save percentage certainly hasn’t hurt - .918 over the past six games, compared to .894 over the first 49 games of the season.

Regardless, the Blackhawks are indeed on a six-game winning streak and making a late push for the playoffs. And this despite two separate winless streaks of eight games earlier this season. Has a team ever made the playoffs despite a pair of eight-game winless streaks during the season? The answer is yes, and the last teams to do it were the Oilers & Coyotes. They each had a 10-game and an 8-game winless streak in 1997-98 (thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau for this note). With the Blackhawks stars doing what they’re capable of, it’s tough to count them out.

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are back within two points of a wild card spot, and they may finally be getting their star goaltender back soon.

After joining the team on the ice for the fourth time in a week, Corey Crawford met with the media on Friday and acknowledged he's essentially ready to come back. But it's not up to him when he'll actually return.

"It's really hard to say," Crawford said. "It's not up to me. I'm healthy to play right now. Really it's whether they think I'm ready to get in the net."

The Blackhawks have won eight of their past nine games, and have gotten terrific goaltending from Collin Delia and Cam Ward. There's no urgency to rush Crawford back, but if he's ready, he's ready and he basically serves as a trade deadline acquisition on his own.

"We've been playing great," Crawford said. "I think that's a tough situation too. Obviously you don't want to come back in and [not] be at the top of my game. We're in a pretty good run right now, a pretty good stretch. It's really thinking about what game do you throw me in? I'll leave that up to Jeremy [Colliton]. Whenever they want to, I'm ready to play."

Colliton was asked about Crawford's potential timeline and said there will be discussions internally about when he will be back between the pipes for the Blackhawks. All we know is, that won't come on Saturday against Columbus. But it likely will be very soon.

"It’s good to hear he’s feeling good," Colliton said. "That’s good. We’ll discuss it in the staff and let you know.”

Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks


Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks

If you look at Cam Ward's stat line this season, his numbers don't look great. In fact, they aren't very good.

His 3.60 goals against average ranks dead last in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 starts, and .898 save percentage ranks 39th out of 47th. But there's a reason for that.

Ward is facing 9.4 high-danger chances at even strength per game and a shade above 11 in all situations, according to No other goaltender is seeing that many quality of shots at that rate. Couple that with the fact that the Blackhawks are giving up the second-most shots in general (35.4) and the numbers simply won't favor the goaltender, no matter who's in net. 

On Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, Ward faced 19 total high-danger shots against. He stopped all 19 of those. He also turned aside 35 of 36 shots at 5-on-5 to up his season save percentage to .922 in that area.

Where Ward's overall save percentage has taken a big hit this season is the penalty kill. He's given up 26 power-play goals on 122 shots against for a .787 save percentage. Some of that is on him. But the Blackhawks statistically have the worst penalty kill in the league with a 73.4 percent kill rate, so there's plenty of blame to go around.

In the big picture, Ward deserves more credit than he's getting for his on-ice play with Corey Crawford out and off-ice role by serving as a great mentor for Collin Delia. Quite frankly, the Blackhawks likely wouldn't be in the playoff race at this point in the season if it wasn't for him because he's bridged the gap perfectly between a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie and 24-year-old who had only two NHL starts going into this season.

Remember how last season turned out when they didn't have a veteran like Ward?