Blackhawks need offensive spark to make excellent goaltending matter
The Hawks rank sixth in the NHL with a .933 team save percentage at five-on-five — a number boosted by Petr Mrazek’s stellar start Thursday. But they’ve scored only four goals in their last four games combined.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Blackhawks’ goaltending this season has been shockingly good.
Whether it’s Petr Mrazek, Alex Stalock or Arvid Soderblom, the Hawks have gotten consistently stellar performances in net on a nightly basis. Considering the goalie unit appeared to be the shakiest of any roster group entering the season, the success — even amid a plague of injuries — has been remarkable.
But the Hawks have lost six of their last seven games anyway, and that’s almost entirely because their offense has underperformed as much as their goalies have overperformed.
In 5-on-5 play this season, the Hawks are averaging 45.0 shot attempts, 24.4 shots on goal, 20.8 scoring chances and 1.68 goals per 60 minutes. They rank last in the NHL in the latter two categories and second-to-last (ahead of only the Coyotes) in the first two.
Their offensive weaknesses have only worsened in November. Over four games this month, they’ve scored just four goals — including only one during 5-on-5 play. They’ve averaged 44.1 shot attempts, 22.9 shots on goal and 20.8 scoring chances per 60 games — last in the league in every regard.
That pattern continued Thursday in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Kings in which the Hawks scored only on Taylor Raddysh’s power-play strike and mustered just 29 shot attempts, 14 shots on goal and nine scoring chances in 45 minutes of 5-on-5 action.
“We just held onto pucks maybe a little too long,” coach Luke Richardson said Friday. “We talked about it, and we tried to get pucks off a little faster in the second half of the game. We just have to bear down.”
In the third period, Richardson flipped Philipp Kurashev onto the first line with Patrick Kane and Max Domi and moved Andreas Athanasiou onto the second line with Raddysh and Jonathan Toews. That provided a little spark, but small personnel shifts can only do so much. It’s also unclear if those line changes will remain in effect Saturday against the Ducks.
Then again, the Hawks’ inability to score might be a result of defensive woes as much as offensive ones. When one team has possession, the other certainly isn’t getting any shot attempts or scoring chances, and the Kings enjoyed a king’s share of possession time Thursday. The Hawks were repeatedly pinned into their defensive zone for several minutes without respite.
Only because of Mrazek did that imbalance not translate to the scoreboard. The Czech veteran stopped 31 of 33 shots in his return from a groin injury, pulling off some heroic saves in the waning minutes of both the second and third periods.
“I saw the puck early on really well,” Mrazek said. “[After] the first few saves — especially a breakaway early in the first period — when you stop that, you feel even more confident, you feel better in there.”
Added Richardson: [Mrazek] gave us some inspiration. Guys really battle for him. He’s a character guy in the dressing room, and they love him. He gave us a chance to stay in that game where, at times, we really didn’t deserve to in the second period. . . . We owe him a point for that one.”
Mrazek admitted he wanted to return faster from his injury but said he understood, given his history of groin problems, why the Hawks’ trainers played it safe. He ultimately needed every bit of stamina and strength as he stretched post-to-post on several occasions.
“The guys did a fantastic job managing that,” he said. “I was feeling well early on. But it’s important to recover, to get the injury back on track and to prevent it so it doesn’t happen again.”
His season save percentage rose to .895 with his performance Thursday. Ignoring the season opener against the Avalanche — essentially an impossible matchup — he sits at .911. Stalock, meanwhile, has a .914 save percentage and Soderblom .924.
Those add up to a team save percentage of .910, eighth in the NHL entering Friday. Narrowed down to 5-on-5 play, the Hawks’ team save percentage of .933 ranks sixth. For comparison, the Bruins (12-2-0) ranked 10th, Andrei Vasilevskiy’s Lightning ranked 18th and Igor Shesterkin’s Rangers ranked 24th, all well below the Hawks.
The fact the Hawks have won only five of 13 games while enjoying such terrific netminding is probably worth some concern, especially considering Mrazek, Stalock and Soderblom might not realistically keep this up all year.
On the other hand, given how terrible the Hawks were expected to be, the fact they’ve performed so well in any area — earning points in eight of 13 games as a result — is worth commending.
Those two conflicting views exemplify how hard it is to judge this torn-down team. But internally, the Hawks are just trying to win every game as it comes, and in order to do so, they’re going to need significantly more offense.