The Chicago Blackhawks Shot Suppression Problem


Henry Asks

What can be done to help the defense give up less shots?
A true shut down pairing?
calling up an AHL player?
could they acquire someone via trade? who would be available and what/who is Stan willing to part with?

First, let’s take a look at each pairings numbers so far this season.

The numbers we will use are:

  • Shots against/60 – The number of shots the Blackhawks give up when each pairing is on the ice per 60 minutes. (Blue below)
  • Shots on goal against/60 – The number of shots on goal the Blackhawks give up when each pairing is on the ice per 60 minutes. (Green below)
  • eXpected goals against/60 – The number of goals the Blackhawks were expected to give up with each pairing on the ice per 60 minutes. eXpected Goals are calculated by looking at where the shots are coming from on the ice. Dangerous shots in close are worth more than shots from the point. The stat gives each shot a danger rating and utilizes this to estimate the number of goals a team should have given up. (Yellow below)

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 18.32.15 PM.png

Please note that I also included the numbers of a league average pairing for reference. Also note that this is about limiting opponents shots. Thus, lower numbers are better here as these are the opponents shot numbers.

That’s kind of hard to read right? Let’s make our own suppression metric for ease of readability. To do this, we will simply add each of the three stats we use together to equal the simple suppression metric. For example, we’ll add Seabrook-Keith’s pairing numbers of 57.5 + 33.6 + 3.5 to obtain their suppression metric. It’s just a way to simplify the viz to better compare the pairings.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 18.32.23 PM.png

So no paring is excelling at suppressing the opponent. Each pairing is worse than a league average pairing so far this season.  I need to add this caveat though.

  • Hardest minutes against top opponents: Keith-Seabrook pairing
  • Medium minutes against good players: Forsling-Rutta pairing
  • Easiest minutes against less talented  opponents: Oesterle-Murphy and Kempny-Murphy pairings

A True Shutdown Pairing

I don’t know what that would be. Duncan Keith’s defense probably isn’t that good anymore. His defense is probably close to league average, while his offense and transition game is what’s keeping him an elite defensemen. Even though he’s slipped defensively, he’s still the best Chicago has, so he’s on the shutdown pairing.

Seabrook had the worst defensive WAR numbers last season according to Corsica. Forsling was pretty bad as well. We obviously don’t have enough data on Rutta.

Connor Murphy? He had the best defensive WAR numbers on Arizona last season. He’s a right shot. He’s touted as a defensive defensemen.  He was brought in to replace Hjalmarsson.

So if I had to pick a shutdown top pairing right now, I would go with Duncan Keith and Connor Murphy. I’m not saying it’s a great or perfect top pairing, but it’s most likely the best Chicago has right now.

Call Up An AHL Player?

If anyone should get called up, it’s Erik Gustafsson. His one season with the Blackhawks was ridiculous. He led the league in 5v5 assist rate by all defensemen with at least 500 minutes of ice time. He helped produce offense. The problem with him is protecting the puck in the neutral zone. He likes to skate the puck up the ice. A defenseman is the last line of defense. If Gustafsson turns the puck over in the neutral zone, it results in a breakaway chance for the opponent. Everyone will remember the Troy Brouwer goal in the playoff series vs St Louis.

These neutral zone turnovers drive coaches and fans mad, and these events always have a lasting image after the game is over. But if we examine the full picture by taking a look at the offense produced vs the defensive results when Gustafsson was on the ice, it largely favors the Blackhawks. Chicago greatly out-shot and out-scored opponents when he was on the ice.

I’m not and will never say that Gustafsson is the savior of the team or some elite defensemen. I always bring him up though and here is why. In his short time with Chicago, the Blackhawks dominated opponents when he was on the ice. The Blackhawks produced great offensively when he was on the ice. So I would like to see if that trend continues with Gustafsson on the NHL squad. He’ll make one or two boneheaded plays per game, but the offense produced far outweighs the few bad plays historically with him.

Acquire A Defenseman Via Trade?

Good luck. Every player on Chicago has a no move clause. The young players without one  like Schmaltz, Hartman, DeBrincat are needed by the team. Their aren’t any prospects that will bring much of a return.

The Blackhawks have a plethora of 3rd pairing defensemen. To trade for one, the talent level would have to be 2 pairing defensemen or better. Chicago would have to most likely unload a 1st and a prospect to bring back anything of use. It’s too early in the season to know which players are on the trade block.

Blow Up The Pairings?


I’ve already talked about making Keith – Murphy a pairing and seeing how that looks.

That leaves us with

  • Left shot: Forsling, Kempny, and Oesterle
  • Right shot: Seabrook, Rutta, and Franson

I’m not to worried about the bottom-2 pairings. Forsling – Seabrook or Kempny – Seabrook would be fine. Kempny – Rutta or Forsling – Rutta is fine as well.

So we have

  1. Keith – Murphy
  2. Forsling – Seabrook
  3. Kempny – Rutta


  1. Keith – Murphy
  2. Forsling -Rutta
  3. Kempny – Seabrook

I know, I know, you want to ask “what about Keith – Rutta” or some other combo. Sure. The point is that what’s currently constructed is not working. It’s time to try something else and stick to trying something else.

How Does A Defenseman Suppress Shots Anyway?

There are many ways.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 19.51.55 PM.png

I thought this up and created it in about five minutes, so don’t be too judgmental.

Let’s breakdown how a defenseman suppresses shots.


The opponent has the puck and to limit the opponents shots, one has to get the puck from them. A defensemen must engage the puck carrier by knocking them off the puck, forcing them to make an errant pass, or allowing themselves to stick check the puck free. By engaging the puck carrier, the defensemen must effectively free them of the puck. After this, a d-man must race to the puck. For example an errant pass results in the puck being in the corner. It’s a one-on-one 15 foot race to the puck and possession.

The defenseman has to engage the puck carrier, free the puck, and collect the puck.


Now that the defenseman has the puck, they need to protect from coughing it up as soon as they retrieved it. They need to create space from the opponent, and make a quick pass up ice. The defensive partner needs to make themselves available in a support position for if the D-man with the puck does not have the time or space to make a pass up ice. If the defensmen realizes they cannot protect the puck, they need to move it to their D partner who is playing a support role most likely along the boards.


The defenseman must execute good timing to pinch and keep the puck in the offensive zone. When they receive the puck, they need to keep the puck moving, and when they take a shot, it can’t be blocked at the blue line.

Shots blocked at the blue line can quickly result in a breakaway chance for the other team. Holding the puck at the blue line may result in a turnover. Not pinching may result in loss of the teams possession of the puck.


The Blackhawks game is about to start so I have to go. I threw a lot of stuff at the wall with this post, hopefully some of it stuck with you the reader. The takeaway should probably be that it’s time to blow up the defense pairings, there probably isn’t much outside help via trade or AHL, and one can utilize the defensemen circle graphic thing I made to try to determine for themselves which d-men are proficient in which skills and how to then mix and match pairings. Example a guy like Keith who is good at offense and transition matched with Murphy, a d-man proficient at defense.

Also, I should note that Brent Seabrook over the last couple seasons has been one of the worst shot suppression defensemen in the league, so one shouldn’t probably play him against the opponents best players, because it will result in the stars on the opposing team getting off many shots.

Let me know in the comments which D-pairings you would like to see.


  1. Would a potential answer be even more offense? Similar to the previous two cup winning Pens teams, stack a group of forwards and let their possession and scoring carry you.

    So instead of giving up a plethora for a top 4 defenseman that may never hit the market you instead can trade for an elite forward like Duchene, Tatar, E. Kane, Paccioretty, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Possibly. I’m not sure Chicago has the assets to acquire a top-6 forward tho.

    Could also change schemes around, have the center stay low to give D help as the D can get the puck. Then Pittsburgh dumped the puck out into the neutral zone creating races to the puck for its wingers and breakaway chances.


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