Grasping at Straws? Optimism and the First & Second Playoff Games

Please pardon the lack of recent stats updates, but your stats wonk has been experiencing near constant heart attacks since sometime around game 78.  And now that the Blackhawks have squeezed their way into the playoffs, what can we say about their first two games?  Aside from some choice four-letter words, that is.

Well, even though the Blackhawks are in a scary-looking hole right now, I think there’s some reason for optimism.  It takes a combination of stats and observation to get there, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched.

Game 1:

Final score:  CHI 0 -- VAN 2
SOG:  CHI 32 -- VAN 33
  By period
      1:  CHI  7 -- VAN 13
      2:  CHI 15 -- VAN 13
      3:  CHI 10 -- VAN  7
Penalties (PIM):  CHI 3 (6) -- VAN 4 (8)
Hits:  CHI 21 -- VAN 47
Giveaways:  CHI 3 -- VAN 7
Takeaways:  CHI 4 -- VAN 13
Faceoff %:  CHI 48 -- VAN 52

Game 2:

Final score:  CHI 3 -- VAN 4
SOG:  CHI 26 -- VAN 27
  By period
      1:  CHI  7 -- VAN  6
      2:  CHI  8 -- VAN 10
      3:  CHI 11 -- VAN 11
Penalties (PIM):  CHI 2 (4) -- VAN 2 (4)
Hits:  CHI 40 -- VAN 45
Giveaways:  CHI 6 -- VAN 10
Takeaways:  CHI 8 -- VAN 15
Faceoff %:  CHI 60 -- VAN 40


Breaking It Down

In both these cases, I’d say the game stats appear to line up pretty well with the final scores.  In Game 1, SOGs were pretty even, but Vancouver came out on top in nearly every other way.*  Game 2 looks more like a game that could have gone either way.  Already, that looks like the right kind of trend.  In particular, the Blackhawks played a more physical game in Game 2 (more hits and takeaways than in Game 1), won more than 50% of faceoffs, and cut down on penalties.

One thing the Blackhawks really struggled with in both games is accurate passing.  How many times did I yell at the TV as the puck was passed into the intended recipient’s skate, or just inches beyond his stick?  (Well, it turns out there is no official stat for this event, but I assure you it was a lot.)  Yet, despite the poor passing, giveaways were still reasonably under control — for example, the Hawks recorded 5 giveaways during their Apr. 8 victory over the Red Wings in an all-around impressive effort.  Takeaways are what hurt more in these games.  Clean up the passing a little, and suddenly I think we’ll be quite a bit happier with what we see on the ice.

Another promising trend that we pray to the hockey gods will continue is that Luongo started giving up the juicy rebounds again in Game 2.  This is at least partially reflected in the lower SOGs for the Blackhawks in Game 2, but higher score.  Luongo absorbed the puck much better in Game 1 (as well as getting a bit of help from goalposts).  Game 2 was a different story.  If that continues, that can only be good news for us.

It’s not all puppy-dogs and rainbows, of course.  Besides the passing problems I already mentioned, the power play has been ineffective and frustrating mental errors abound.

Still, if these other trends continue in the right direction, I think we’ve got a chance.  The stats show that we’ve been in these games — and improving, at least a little.  Now, let’s hope home ice and a revved-up UC crowd will be just that extra little nudge they need!

* A quick side-note about the “hits” statistic.  You should read hits numbers with a grain of salt.  It’s a subjective stat — basically, a judgment call — and many observers have pointed out a home bias (that is, systematically, higher hit counts for the home team and lower for the visitors).  I usually only note whether there was a big difference between the teams and disregard the numbers themselves.  It’s actually a pretty interesting topic that I may cover more thoroughly in a future post.

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