Sharks Gameday: Woes In The Windy City

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7:30 PST
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29-18-7, 65 points 29-16-6, 64 points
6th in Western Conference
3rd in Western Conference

Television
CSN-CA
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Second City Hockey
Hockee Night

I'm not sure what surprises me the most about the Blackhawks this season-- the fact that they come into tonight having lost six games in a row in pretty convincing fashion, or the fact that they've managed to remain in the thick of the Western Conference home ice race despite getting some absolutely horrendous goaltending nearly all season long.

The Blackhawks enter tonight giving up 29.5 shots against per game, good enough for 11th in the entire NHL. And while the excellent writing staff over at Second City Hockey will explain to you in detail as to why those numbers don't necessarily reflect the effort Chicago's blueline as a whole has given throughout this season, it still paints a picture of a team who has done an acceptable job of keeping the puck out of the defensive zone.

Their Fenwick percentage when the game is tied tells an even better story frankly, one that fits the narrative of what Sharks fans generally believe-- Chicago is currently 4th in the NHL behind only Detroit, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh at even strength. This, among other things, speaks to just how elite this team is at controlling the flow of play on a nightly basis.

But again, the goaltending.

Oh that fickle goaltending, which makes The Windy City seem more like a snide remark about five hole flatulence than a comment about the gusty air blown from the mouth of Mother Earth.

To illustrate just what kind of effect Chicago's goaltending has had on their placement in the standings this year let's set the stage with some basic numbers. According to a conversation I had over email with Gabriel Desjardins of Arctic Ice Hockey last night (who gave stats savant Tom Awad mighty credit for doing the legwork), six goals are equal to about two points in the standings. This varies every year of course-- Gabe's calculations for goals per win last season resulted in the numbers coming out to 4.83 goals per win.

Now comes the easy part where I take advantage of everyone else's hard work. According to the delicious Quant Hockey (seriously, what phenomenal UI) the NHL league average SV% for goaltenders was .913 last season and .914 this season. With Chicago's goaltending duo of Cory Crawford and Ray Emery falling well below that mark with a combined .900 SV%, we have the context to determine just how much that has hurt them this season.

If we say the League average for goaltending is a .913 SV%, compare Chicago's .900 SV% to that, and take the number of shots the team has given up this season (1,589), we can see how many goals against they would have received with an average duo between the pipes. Plug in the numbers Gabe has provided for the number of goals that equal a win and-- viola-- we can quantify just how much the Blackhawks play in net has hurt them in the standings.

As it turns out, it's hurt them a helluva lot:


The Effect Chicago's Goaltending Has Had on Standings Points

Situation SV%
Shots
Goals
-
6 Goals Per win
4.83 goals per win
League Average
.913
1,589 138 - - -
Chicago (11-12) .900
1,589 158 - - -
Difference
-
- -20 - -3.33 wins
-4.14 wins

There was probably a much better way to display that chart but I'm going to call on Lynyrd Skynyrd here to bail me out. Ain't foolin' round cause I done had my fun, ain't gonna see no more ill formatted charts with some damage done,

Give me back my bulletssssss:

  • With league average goaltending the Blackhawks would have given up 20 less goals this season
  • That is good for somewhere in the vicinity of 3.5 to 4 wins going by historical numbers
  • 3.5 to 4 wins is roughly 7 to 8 points in the standings
  • 7 to 8 points in the standings is the difference between competing for the Presidents' Trophy or starting your postseason on the road against one of either Detroit, Vancouver, or San Jose

So yeah. That's a pretty crucial difference between having your best shot possible at winning the Cup versus having to start way behind the eight ball in the first round in a Conference that's looking like a death gauntlet come April.

The moral of the story? Chicago isn't nearly as bad as they have been as of late, and their goaltending is probably going to get better either based off sheer regression to the mean or via an upgrade via trade come the deadline. They're still an excellent team, an elite one in my book, and although they haven't made things easy for themselves this year, any opponent who plays them in the postseason is going to have their hands full trying to come out of that series alive.

Speaking of coming out of things alive, does catching Chicago in the midst of a six game losing streak make anyone else feel uneasy as hell?

Prediction: Sharks win 3-2 in the shootout. Goals by McGinn, Pavelski, and Boyle. Spark Notes Scouting Report for tonight's game read as follows-- transition game, team speed, historical ability to pin San Jose on their heels, six game losing streak making my butt cheeks quiver, Hawks are still sicker than SARS.

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