Yes the 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks are a winning team, but they are winning in an unfamiliar way. Throughout the dynasty, the Hawks have mostly dominated teams while playing at even strength (5 players vs 5 players on the ice). Shaky special teams and goaltending could be hidden by the team outshooting and out chancing their opponents while at 5-on-5.
That is not the case this season. To prove this, I decided to see where the Blackhawks ranked each season in a couple key categories.
First let’s take a look at how the Blackhawks are winning this season. The power play.
The team has a dominating power play this season much like the 2010-11 season where the Hawks were bounced in the first round. I’ve talked about the power play at length here, so I won’t get into much on this post.
But I will say that a power plays success is very volatile. A team can easily go cold and not produce over a period of time. The past three games the Blackhawks have scored 1 goal out of 15 power play opportunities.
The result? Three losses. Relying heavily on the power play that can go cold very easily is a concern for the playoffs.
Now let’s check out the goaltending.
Team save percentage has ranked high in the past two cup runs as well as this season. That should bode well for the Hawks as long as the Vezina trophy candidate Corey Crawford doesn’t go cold at the wrong time.
Next, I took a look at the penalty kill.
Lastly, let’s take a look at possession percentage. This has been the Blackhawks rock during the dynasty. They out-shoot, out-possess, and out-chance opponents. This season has been different. The evidence is below.
Each time the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup, they were top 5 in the league at possession. This season, the team finds themselves in unchartered waters. They have their worst possession numbers since the dynasty started. The great possession team is now mediocre in that particular category. They are trading chances. They are trading shot attempts. They aren’t the usual Blackhawks.
So when other March slumps came, it was fine. The team still dominated the league in possession and would do the same in the playoffs. But this isn’t the Blackhawks we know. This isn’t the same old team that wins with great 5-on-5 play. This team is winning because of a very successful power play and goaltending. This team is winning with arguably the two most volatile aspects of the game.
The power play probably won’t maintain its record setting shooting percentage down the stretch. Corey Crawford might slump from his Vezina Trophy leading pace. Those are all likely to happen.
So the main question. The thing to watch for as the season comes to a close. Can the Blackhawks improve their even strength play? Will their mediocre 5-on-5 play regress back to elite status or is this team subpar to those in the past?
Will this team go back to being the Blackhawk that we know or is this what a dynasty looks like when it’s past its prime?
Note: I figured I might as well include the table that I made the charts from for reference.