The Chicago Blackhawks are one game away from coming back from a three games to one deficit in their Western Conference Final series with the Los Angeles Kings. The same feat the New York Rangers pulled off against the Pittsburgh Penguins after loosing three in a row and two on home ice. During the regular season the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks three to two in Chicago at the United Center. After the Olympic break, the two teams met again in New York and the result was more of the same for the New York Rangers. Winning two to one in a close game in which the Rangers lead most of the game two to nothing until the shutout was broken by Peter Regin at 19:48 of the third period. The Rangers went two for two against the Chicago Blackhawks in the regular season but if they manage a comeback against the Los Angeles Kings in game seven tonight. I wouldn’t look too much into that as a prelude to this potential Stanley Cup series.
Up front the Chicago Blackhawks are loaded with star power. Patrick Kane is leading his team in goals and points with eight goals and eighteen points. After a slow start, Kane has led the resurgent Chicago Blackhawks the last two games to even up the Western Conference Final at three games a piece. Team Captain Jonathan Toews is tied in goals with eight of his own and is second in team scoring with sixteen points. As much of a threat to score he is, Jonathan Toews is one of the top two-way centerman in the National Hockey League. He plays in all three zones as well as any forward in the league. Marian Hossa is a speedy winger with amazing puck skills and the ability to help the Chicago Blackhawks take games over. Last seasons unlikely playoff hero Brian Bickell hasn’t had the success he did in last seasons run but he’s always a threat to score a big goal or two in the crease with his size and grit. He’s more than willing to play in any area of the ice. During the regular season the Chicago Blackhawks top scorer Patrick Sharp has been relatively quiet during the playoffs. He was scoring at a point per game pace with seventy-eight points in eighty-two games. In the playoffs he has only three goals and eight points. If Patrick Sharp and the Chicago Blackhawks win game seven and make it to the finals to play the New York Rangers. It’ll take veterans like Patrick Sharp to win games in the finals. Andrew Shaw is the next Centerman followed by Michal Handzus, and Marcus Kruger. To say the very least, the Chicago Blackhawks are top heavy up front and specifically down the middle. They have to get their top two lines going or they’re in trouble. Other notable forwards who have contributed offensively are youngsters Brandon Saad with fourteen points and Ben Smith with six. Including four goals and two assists.
The Chicago Blackhawks defenseman are very good skaters and would be a much tougher challenge for the New York Rangers as opposed to the shallow defense core of the Los Angeles Kings. The Chicago Blackhawks have gotten a large portion of their playoff scoring from the blue line. Defenseman Brent Seabrook is tied for second on the team in scoring with fourteen points while playing 23:17 per game. The team’s top defenseman Duncan Keith leads the team in average ice time with 27:34 per game in the playoffs. The two Defenseman make up the team’s top pair. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are the Chicago Blackhawks second defense pair and both play integral roles on the Penalty Kill. Niklas Hjalmarsson plays just over fifty percent of the total shorthanded minutes for the Blackhawks while Johnny Oduya plays thirty-nine percent of Chicago’s shorthanded minutes. In game six Coach Joel Quenville elected to sit Forward Kris Versteeg in favor of a seventh defenseman. Nick Leddy, Sheldon Brookbank, and ex-New York Ranger Michal Rozsival have played roles as sixth and seventh defenseman. Playing seven defenseman on a top-heavy team might work against the Los Angeles Kings but the New York Rangers speedy wingers will tire the Chicago Blackhawks top forwards down. Many of whom are already playing over twenty minutes per game.
One of the biggest advantages the New York Rangers would have over the Chicago Blackhawks, would be goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist is the best in the world at his craft and has been on top of his game during the playoffs. Chicago Goaltender Corey Crawford was solid during last seasons playoff run. Despite all the criticism and questions raised by the media. He was one of the main reasons the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season. In fifty-nine games during the regular season, Crawford had a save percentage of .917% and a 2.26 Goals Against Average. Those numbers have gone up a bit in the playoffs at .916% and 2.41 in eighteen playoff games. During these Western Conference Finals where Corey Crawford has not been good. He’s allowed over three goals per game with a save percentage below .900. The Chicago Blackhawks don’t have the depth they once had in their last three seasons. Some top players have underperformed and they don’t play the possession game as well as they are used to. The advantage in-goal and on defense goes to the New York Rangers.
The Chicago Blackhawks are a Possession team. The team philosophy is much like that of the New York Rangers. Possession teams want the puck and will dump the puck in the offensive zone much less often than teams like the Los Angeles Kings. If the Blackhawks have trouble entering the offensive zone, rather than dump in and chase. They’ll regroup by passing back to the defenseman behind the play and try again. They will then try again to enter the zone. This is what the so-called experts mean when they refer to a team as a “puck possession” team. If and when they go on the attack and lose possession, the point is to fight to get the puck back. Rather than the New York Ranger teams of the last five years that would sit back and defend to protect the defensive zone. Possession teams want to forecheck with one player and go on the attack with a fast rush up ice. Just like the New York Rangers have done this season under new coach Alain Vineault. The best statistics we have to determine who is the better possession team are Corsi and Fenwick. Let’s stick to Corsi since it incorporates blocked shot attempts. For a look at Chicago has done in this regard, try this link Chicago Blackhawks advanced stats 2013-2014 Playoffs | Extra Skater. The Chicago Blackhawks Play a basic 2-1-2 forecheck when chasing the puck on defense. In the defensive zone the Blackhawks play a zone coverage and will allow shots to come from the point.
The Chicago Blackhawks have not had good “possession Statistics” during the playoffs. At five on five they have taken only 49.2% of all shot attempts in the eighteen games they’ve played. The Los Angeles Kings have had the puck more than they have and a lot of that has to do with their size. The Los Angeles Kings have a good mix of skill, speed, size, and grit. They have out played the Chicago Blackhawks for most of the series but a few of the Chicago Blackhawks top players like Patrick Kane have stepped up in big spots. In five on five situations when the game was tied, the Chicago Blackhawks have owned 50.7% of all shot attempts. In this case they’ve also scored 58.1% of the goals scored in tie games. This is an area of the game where the New York Rangers have been dominant in the playoffs.With the score close the New York Rangers have scored 63.8% of all the goals between them and the opposition in every game they’ve played. The New York Rangers used to play well in close games, now they take them over. If the Chicago Blackhawks come out of the Western Conference Finals victorious, the New York Rangers will find themselves in a favorable matchup in the Stanley Cup Finals.