Chicago Blackhawks Getting Away from Their Identity
A lot of things went wrong for the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, but all the issues ultimately boiled down to one thing: Chicago utterly and completely abandoned precisely what has made the team so successful in recent years. Specifically, the Blackhawks apparently lost any semblance of interest in playing a puck possession-centric game.
It seemed that Chicago was interested in trying to match St. Louis’ physicality more than anything, a demonstrably ill-conceived and senseless game plan. The Blackhawks have been routinely on the “losing” end of contact-measuring statistics for years; they were outhit by their opponents in more than 70 of 82 regular season games.
Chicago makes its hay on puck possession, being one of the most dominant teams in the NHL in that respect. During the 2013-14 season, the Blackhawks’ 55.7% corsi for percentage ranked behind only the Los Angeles Kings. It’s the perfect style for the personnel in Chicago; Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, and Duncan Keith are each brilliant possession players, and the emphasis on puck control allows players like Patrick Kane to have it on their sticks more often (indubitably a good thing).
Problems arise, then, when the Blackhawks stray from that game plan. They were still outhit by St. Louis in Game 1, but were evidently running around looking for contact far more often than normal. The possession numbers certainly indicate as much; Chicago was uncharacteristically dominated and registered only 44.9% of corsi events, one of their lowest totals of 2013-14.
A renewed focus on puck possession will be key for the team in Game 2.