Whenever a team wins a championship, they become the model for teams moving forward that are chasing the ultimate prize. As CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden wrote this morning, a comparison of the Blackhawks to the Kings could lead to some specific changes for the Hawks.
But looking deeper at the Kings, they paint one of the most unique championship pictures in recent memory.
Looking back at the 82-game regular season shows that the Blackhawks and Kings were similar in a number of areas.
The Blackhawks power play left a lot to be desired last season, ranking 26th in the NHL at a medicore 15.2 percent. But the Kings weren’t a great deal better, ranking 17th in the league at 17.0 percent.
Chicago and LA were fairly similar in the faceoff circle as well. The Kings ranked seventh in the NHL last year, winning 51.5 percent of their faceoffs as a team. The Blackhawks ranked 12th in the league, winning 50.6 percent of their faceoffs. Again, there wasn’t a huge difference between the two teams.
Chicago had a 1.01 goals for/against ratio last year in 5-on-5 play, which was slightly better than the LA (0.98). Both the Hawks and Kings were in the middle of the NHL in 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio.
So much attention was paid to shot blocking this year, especially in the playoffs. But during the regular season, the Kings ranked 29th in the NHL with only 969 blocks as a team (the Devils were 30th). By comparison, the Blackhawks blocked 1,029 shots, which ranked 26th in the league.
Indeed, blocked shots have proven to be arguably the most over rated statistic over the last few months. Looking back at the regular season, 10 of the 16 playoff teams ranked in the league’s lower half in blocked shots, and nine of the bottom 10 in the league qualified for the postseason.
In other areas, the Blackhawks and Kings were different.
The scoring issues the Kings battled all season were well documented. LA ranked 29th in the NHL, barely slipping ahead of the Minnesota Wild for the distinction of being the league’s lowest scoring team during the 2011-12 regular season. The Kings averaged only 2.29 goals per game this year; only four playoff teams ranked in the league’s lower half in scoring this year (Phoenix, St. Louis, Florida and LA).
During the 2011-12 regular season, the Blackhawks averaged 2.94 goals per game; scoring wasn’t a major issue for the Hawks.
However, after the trade deadline (when the Kings acquired Jeff Carter from Columbus), their offense took a major step up. In their final 18 games after the deadline, LA averaged 3.00 goals per game while allowing only 2.22 per game. In the postseason, LA enjoyed continued improvement; they averaged 2.85 goals per game while winning the 16 games required to kiss the Cup.
After the deadline (17 games), the Blackhawks averaged only 2.77 goals per game while allowing 2.41 per night; the Hawks only outscored their opponents by six goals over their final 17 games. While the Kings enjoyed the addition of Carter, the Hawks clearly struggled while playing without Jonathan Toews down the stretch.
Unfortunately, the flip side of that stat favors LA.
The Blackhawks ranked 22nd in the NHL, allowing 2.82 goals per game. The Kings, led by Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, allowed the second-fewest goals in the league during the regular season (2.07 per game). Quick showed that he should be the winner of the Vezina as well during the postseason.
A major contributor in the Hawks’ struggles in the goals against category was their poor penalty kill. Chicago ranked 27th in the NHL last year, killing only 78.1 of opponents’ power play opportunities. LA, meanwhile, ranked fourth in the NHL at 87.0 percent.
It’s been said more than once, but it’s worth repeating: a team can get away with having one mediocre special teams unit, but not both. Mike Haviland is unemployed right now because the Blackhawks felt they needed change behind the bench to avoid having two bad special teams performances again in 2012-13.
So what can Hawks fans take away from the Kings success? (Other than being overwhelmingly grateful that they eliminated Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix?)
Both teams have a strong core group of players that are young enough to keep them in the title picture, but Chicago has some clearly defined areas that need to be improved. The Hawks have to be better on the back end, especially in net, and must improve their penalty killing. But those shouldn’t come as a revelation to anyone that watched the team all season.
With the 2011-12 season now formally, officially in the rear view mirror, it’s time for Stan Bowman to get to work making the 2012-13 Blackhawks a team that can achieve in 12 months what the Kings did last night.