Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)
OFFENSE TAKES DIVE IN 5-ON-5
Hawks’ strong goalie play going to waste
The 2021 Blackhawks have strong goaltending but a terrible offense.
Surely, no one expected that two months ago. Or even two weeks ago. But it’s true.
Kevin Lankinen’s remarkable transformation from unproven prospect to NHL regular and a solid start by Malcolm Subban have given the Hawks a .946 save percentage in their last five games — good for second in the NHL during that span. For the season, their .904 mark ranks a respectable 16th.
On the other end of the ice, however, the Hawks haven’t been able to score enough to translate Lankinen’s breakthrough into team success.
Incredibly, fewer than half of the Hawks’ goals so far have been scored at five-on-five. Of their 23 goals, 10 have come on the power play, one short-handed and one during four-on-four play.
‘‘We want to score more, for sure,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said after the Hawks’ 2-1 loss Friday to the Blue Jackets, a game in which the Hawks’ lone goal came on the power play. ‘‘We’re creating chances. We’re generating more in the offensive zone than we have in the past. [The] transition chances, I feel, will be there with the group we have. [But we’re] missing a little bit of execution when we have the opportunity off the rush. Just not quite finishing, not quite making that last pass. But I believe that will come, too.’’
The data back up Colliton’s claim. Quantity isn’t the Hawks’ problem: They’re averaging 29.3 shots on goal and 24.8 scoring chances per 60 minutes at five-on-five, above the league average (13th and 15th) in both stats.
But the Hawks aren’t finishing those chances. Entering play Saturday, they ranked 30th in the NHL in shooting percentage (5.3%) and scoring-chance conversion rate (5.1%).
Only the Hurricanes, who have played only four games and still managed to win three of those, ranked worse in those categories.
Meanwhile, seven teams had scoring-chance conversion rates higher than 10.2% — more than double the Hawks’ rate — with the Capitals leading the pack at 13.7%.
What are the Hawks doing wrong? Center Dylan Strome initially said he didn’t have a good answer when he was asked that question Friday, but he later offered a couple of ideas.
‘‘We’ve got to find a way to get pucks through from the ‘D,’ but our forwards need to do a better job of getting in front of the net, so it’s a combination of both,’’ Strome said. ‘‘When they get through, we have good chances. So I guess that would be the one thing: finding a way to get to the net more. [The Blue Jackets] box out good, and it’s hard to get in tight there.’’
The depleted forward corps — with Brandon Saad traded, Jonathan Toews ill, Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander injured and Alex DeBrincat on the COVID-19 list — probably plays a large role in that.
Still, this strange reality — with stellar goaltending squandered by nonexistent scoring — didn’t seem plausible when the Hawks entered the season.