The Chicago Blackhawks have been notoriously unsuccessful in extra time this season, having yet to record a win in 18 overtime periods. The team possesses an 0-6 record in games that have ended in OT, which incidentally almost perfectly opposes the 5-0 mark from last year’s Cup-winning group. Such ineffectiveness is surprising for a highly talented team even without that context… but with it, Chicago’s inability to win games past 60 minutes becomes far more perplexing.
What is behind the team’s apparent inability to win in the extra session? This question has been repeated ad nauseum in Chicago in recent weeks, and is once again a fresh topic of discussion after Tuesday night’s overtime defeat to the Flames. In trying to parse together an answer to it, we’re going to take a look at some comparative stats.
*This article only examines the Blackhawks’ performance in 4-on-4 situations in 2013-14, whether in overtime or not. Shootouts are excluded from discussion given their proven tendency to vary wildly from year to year.
Blackhawks Overtime Woes: The Numbers
Chart notes: The sample sizes for each of the two below Blackhawks teams are nearly identical, at just a shade over 100 total 4-on-4 minutes for both… “/60” notation is shorthand for “per 60 minutes”… all rankings are indexed from 1-30, with lower numbers indicating superiority… Statistics do not include the recent game in Calgary… Fenwick and Corsi data are only readily available for 5-on-5 play, but shots for/against are reasonable substitutes.
|2012-13 Season (League Rank)||2013-14 Season (League Rank)|
|4v4 Goals For/60||4.2 (4th)||2.4 (18th)|
|4v4 Goals Against/60||1.2 (5th)||3.0 (20th)|
|4v4 Shots For/60||42.0 (2nd)||33.5 (11th)|
|4v4 Shots Against/60||34.2 (21st)||21.5 (5th)|
|4v4 Shooting %||9.0% (18th)||9.29% (15th)|
|4v4 Save %||96.5% (5th)||86.1% (28th)|
I included the goals for/against stats mostly for interest’s sake rather than for their usefulness. Statistically speaking, goals are relatively random events and do not necessarily reflect how well a team is playing; indeed, they can actually be very deceiving, as we will discover and discuss later.
So, to reiterate our question: Why has Chicago been so much less successful in 4-on-4 situations (and thus, overtime) this season compared to last?
Answering the Question: Blackhawks Overtime Struggles
The answers – yes, plural, as you may have guessed – are right there in the chart. Let’s go through some of them.
Chicago is generating significantly less offense at 4-on-4 this season, as reflected in the 25% dip in shots per 60 minutes from ’12-13 to ’13-14. This is especially intriguing in light of the fact that most would label today’s Blackhawks as better offensively than last year’s group. I would have to disagree with any such claim; the difference in offensive production between the two teams is almost entirely attributable to 2013-14’s improved powerplay. Not so coincidentally, that same powerplay is mired in an extended slump at the moment… a slump that is concurrent with an appreciable decline in overall offense.
Actually, last year’s Blackhawks were superior offensively in 4v4 play by all available metrics. My guess at the reason why would be that it was a faster team; this would be attributable to personnel (more Stalberg, less Handzus) as well as obvious fatigue this season due to a lengthy playoff run and historically short offseason. A quick team will tend to have an edge over a slower one at 4-on-4 owing to a considerable amount of space and open ice that isn’t available in much more bogged-down 5-on-5.
Moving on to the second reason…
The Blackhawks’ goaltending in 4v4 situations has been terrible, as you no doubt noticed in that horrific 86.1 save percentage figure. I am aware that I haven’t accounted for shot quality, but that is where the shots against/60 statistic enters the mix; the fact that Chicago is allowing nearly 40% (!!!) less shots from the opposition this year in 4-on-4 play would certainly seem to cast considerable doubt upon the “they’re giving up more good chances!” line of reasoning. Beyond that, we have no way to infer opposing shot quality, but I don’t think we need to.
I would also add that Chicago’s ’12-13 4v4 goaltending was unsustainably great, and in lieu of that we were more or less guaranteed that this season’s Blackhawks would see a regression in that respect. Actually, in terms of “real” 4-on-4 ability, the ’12-13 team was probably nowhere near as good as we like to think. They produced a ton of scoring opportunities, but they also gave up a ton. Sensational goaltending saved them, but that level of netminding doesn’t last. We’ve been privy to that stark reality this year.
Now, proceeding to our third and final reason…
Randomness. This may not seem like a very satisfying explanation to some, but it’s a definitive factor.
Ask yourselves: How have we all come to the conclusion that the Blackhawks are a bad overtime (4-on-4) team this season?
By our cognizance of the results, right? The 6 overtime losses, the fact that Chicago has not yet won a game in the 5-minute extra session, and the overt contrast between the OT win/loss records of this and last year’s Blackhawks. That’s what fuels our perception.
But we fail to take into account the incredible variance present in a sport where an otherwise unremarkable backup goalie decides its his night to turn into a netminding deity, where outshooting a team by 30 seemingly leads to losses almost as often as wins, and where a simple bounce of the puck one way or the other can singlehandedly determine a game’s outcome. Let me be more clear, and in the process connect back to something I mentioned earlier: Goals are not a reliable and valid indicator of how well a team is actually performing. Put differently, judging a team’s 4-on-4 mettle based purely on goals and game results (which is exactly what many have been doing by wringing their hands about all the OTL’s and absence of an OT win) is completely off the mark.
Look again at the chart – the 2012-13 Blackhawks took approximately 55% of total shots at 4v4. Interested to hear what that number is for this season’s team?
60%. Yes, the ’13-14 Chicago Blackhawks, oft-maligned for their overtime and 4-on-4 performance, are actually carrying more of the play in those situations this year than last.
Thus we come to our conclusion. While the Blackhawks are not creating quite the quantity offense at 4-on-4 as they did in historic 2012-13, they are nevertheless dominating every bit as much. The drop in 4v4 Chicago offense has been accompanied by an even more pronounced drop in opponents’ offense, therein manifesting our main contributors to the awful OT record this season: weak goaltending and, quite simply, bad luck.
So take heart, Blackhawks fans. The overtime futility will eventually turn around.
Follow Sean Sarcu on Twitter: @seansarcu
Sean covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers and Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter: @seansarcu.