2013 NHL Finals: A Statistical Look at How the Chicago Blackhawks Took a 1-0 Series Lead

2013 Stanely cup finals
2013 Stanely cup finals
Jun 12 2013 Chicago IL USA Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw 65 celebrates with teammates after scoring the game winning goal against the Boston Bruins during the third overtime period in game one of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final at the United Center Scott Stewart USA TODAY Sports

Game one of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, in all honesty, was one of the best hockey games I’ve watched in recent memory. For some reason, Keith Primeau’s overtime winner in the 5th overtime of game four from the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals came to mind.

This game had it all. There were 117 total shots on goal, 120 total hits, 112:08 minutes of game time, seven total goals and well, you get the point.

Interestingly enough, there are two ways you can look at how this game unfolded.

Chicago Dominated From The Second Period To The Final Whistle

There is a reason why Chicago won the President’s Trophy as the regular season’s best team and they were the second-best possession team in the regular season as well; this is a pretty good hockey club.

From puck drop, Chicago’s coach, Joel Quenneville, had a pretty clear plan; match-up Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa against Zdeno Chara, which would draw Chara away from Patrick Kane. Quenneville started the game with Toews, Hossa and Patrick Sharp on one line, although he would mix and match lines all game long, it gave us a glimpse into the game plan.

This bore out through the game; Chara ended up playing over twice as much against Toews and Hossa as he did against Kane at 5 on 5. This game plan produced a couple of interesting results:

  • Kane actually finished with a lower Fenwick (+12) and Corsi (+19) than both Toews (21, 31) and Hossa (17, 20). As shaky as their D-zone coverage seemed at times, Boston’s defensive pairing of Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference did a pretty good job overall at shutting down Kane.
  • Even though the Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Nathan Horton line scored both of Boston’s even strength goals, they were outplayed by Toews and Hossa; Horton had the best On-Ice Corsi of the three Bruins at (-13) and he left the game injured in the first overtime and did not return. It will be interesting to see if this continues once the series shifts back to Boston and the Bruins get last change (as the home team).

I wonder if Boston coach Claude Julien plans on matching different lines next game. The results certainly weren’t there in game one with his current plan, even if it did go three overtimes.

One of the keys that I had in my Stanley Cup Finals Preview to Chicago succeeding would be the play of their depth players. For most of the game, David Bolland and Andrew Shaw played together, rotating in Brandon Saad, Sharp and Bryan Bickell on their line. This approach, as well, produced interesting results:

  • Bolland and Shaw were two of the three minus Fenwick and Corsi players for Chicago in game one (Bickell being the third). Shaw and Bolland drew the assignment of covering the Patrice Bergeron/ Brad Marchand/ Jaromir Jagr line, a tall task for any line.
  • Despite being outplayed, Bolland and Shaw each managed a goal and an assist, including both of them being in on the Plinko-style triple overtime winner.

The depth of Chicago, indeed, had an impact on this game. Even though as a group they weren’t statistically dominant, they put up numbers where it matters most; in the goal column of the score sheet. In fact, the only one of Chicago’s Big Four of Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp to tally a point on any of the four goals was Hossa after he forced a turnover at Boston’s blueline and slid it over to Saad to get Chicago on the board.

Finally, my second key to Chicago victory was goaltender Corey Crawford not imploding. He most certainly did not do that.

As expected, Crawford’s unsustainable power-play save percentage (his save percentage when his team is on the penalty kill) has gone from .985 before the Los Angeles Series, to .967 before game one of this series, to .958 as of today (Boston went 1/3 on the PP last night). I fully expect this trend to continue.

His regression on power-play shots aside, Crawford saved Chicago’s backside on more than one occasion. In overtime alone:

  • Crawford stood tall on a rebound chance by Tyler Seguin about eight minutes into the first overtime.
  • With less than five minutes left in the first overtime, Crawford stopped both Seguin and Shawn Thornton off shots in close to help force a second overtime.
  • Crawford stopped Seguin on a partial breakaway in the second OT. Later that overtime period, he got a bit lucky when Chara hit a post on a point shot on the power-play. Some call it lucky, but I also think there is something to a goalie being in good enough of a position that the only place a puck could go is either off of him, off of the post or wide of the net. I’ll give Crawford the benefit of the doubt here.

Chicago dominated this game and deserved the win, but that’s not to say they couldn’t easily be down 1-0 in this series.

Boston Gives The Game Away

There’s been a lot of talk in the hockey blogosphere over the last couple of months about the true value of “sitting on a lead”. If the best predictive tool we have of future performance is puck possession, it would seem counter-intuitive to go into a “defensive shell” and by definition, give up any hope to win the possession battle while employing this tactic. I’m not going to get into the math of this notion because there’s no real consensus on the value of this strategy, although at face value, I am not a fan of sitting on a lead.

This was especially egregious last night in Chicago. Boston scored just over six minutes into the third period and their offensive game pretty much flatlined. In fact, it had pretty much flatlined after Saad scored that first goal in the second period off a turnover. This makes me wonder; after Chicago scored the goal on a turnover at Boston’s blue line, was there a directive coming from Boston’s coach(es) to just absolutely minimize turnovers at all costs? That’s generally the idea anyway, but sometimes that’s not the case when trying to advance towards a superior scoring position.

I wonder that because there aren’t a lot of games where one team (especially one as good as Boston), wins the possession battle for a period and then gets completely dominated for the next four-plus periods. This isn’t to take anyway anything from Chicago, they absolutely deserved to win that game. But that doesn’t mean Boston couldn’t have won it; they had a third period two-goal lead and had their chances to end it in overtime. So it’s just an attempt to evaluate what effect a coach can have on win expectancy with in-game adjustments (something that requires much, much deeper analysis than one turnover-turned-goal).

As expected, this series is going to be a good one. I don’t think we should expect every game to go three overtimes (even though that would be awesome), but I think we should expect lead changes, big hits and great saves like we saw in game one. I’m already excited for game two on Saturday.

*As always, thanks to Behind The Net, Hockey Reference, Stats Analysis and Nice Time On Ice for their fantastic resources. 

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');