The Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the most dominant offensive teams in the NHL throughout the careers of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but this season, their once potent offense has hit the skids in a big way.
They’ve been shutout in two of their last four games, and they’ve only scored three or more goals on three occasions so far this year. Players throughout the lineup are struggling to find their form, with Brandon Saad and Kris Versteeg being moved around the lineup with abandon and Joel Quenneville trying every conceivable line combination that he can think of to get things going.
Contrary to what some denizens of the United Center may think, the matter at hand for the Hawks isn’t simply a lack of willingness to shoot the puck. They have been shooting at a really high clip so far this season, with 461 shots through their first 12 games. That is good for a 38.4 shots per game rate, highest in the league by a wide margin over the Minnesota Wild. That rate is also over four shots per game better than their rate in the 2013-14 season, and nearly 10 shots per game higher than the first dozen games of their Stanley Cup-winning 2012-13 season.
The difference between those two seasons and this one is a matter of how many of those shots are going in the net. The increase in shot totals has not had a corresponding rise in goals scored, with the Hawks only tallying 26 goals so far this season. That is far below the 37 they had in the first dozen games of last season (a nearly goal per game reduction), and also below the 41 they averaged in 2012-13.
That drop in goals scored has led to an anemic shooting percentage of just 5.6% so far this season. For an idea of how bad that is, the Hawks scored on 9.61% of their shots last season, and that was actually down from the high-water mark of the Kane/Toews era when they scored on 9.97% of their shots on goal.
Fortunately for the Blackhawks, things are eventually going to start to even out if they end up keeping up this pace of shot-taking. The lowest rate that the Hawks have scored on over the past 25 years came in the 2002-03 season, and even that success rate was well above where they’re at now, as they scored on 7.83% of the shots they took.
So how can the Blackhawks reverse that trend and start to score more goals? For starters, they will have to fully embrace their reputation as a team that can crash the net. Guys like Andrew Shaw are excellent at deflecting shots in front, and players like Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews are big enough to provide excellent screens in front of goaltenders. Having a clear line of sight is a gift to an opposing goaltender, so anything the Hawks can do to muck that area up will not only give them more chances to score on initial shots, but they’ll likely get some chances at rebounds too.
The other thing that the Blackhawks need to try is to roll out some consistent lines. Quenneville’s penchant for tinkering works when it’s just a few players that are struggling to score with regularity, but when it’s a team-wide phenomenon like this, that tendency can cause more harm than good.
Allowing players to become more familiar with each other could be a good thing to do in this situation, and it is something that Quenneville is certainly capable of doing (just look at the 2012-13 season as an example).
Whatever the fix ends up being, it should come sooner rather than later. This team didn’t just forget how to score goals overnight, and antsy fans should take comfort in knowing that this kind of low shot percentage is a trend that is almost impossible to sustain.