Let’s get ready to fummmmbbbbbblllllllllllllllle……defensive zone coverage. The Ducks and the Blackhawks square-off tonight at the Madhouse on Madison in a battle of the two worst defensive teams in the NHL. Now, I know what you might be thinking, “Come on, Mike, how bad can they be given that the Ducks are 1st place in the Pacific division and the Hawks are in a playoff spot?” The answer, really bad and if there aren’t big improvements on both sides, neither team will be in a playoff spot for long. The sheer volume of shots these teams have allowed is staggering.
The Ducks and Hawks are the only teams in the league allowing an average of over 37 shots against per game and when it comes to quality shots against, they are again the two worst teams in the league.
Saturday night, in a 3-1 loss to Vegas, the Ducks allowed 35 shots on goal from the slot. Not in total, from the slot! John Gibson stopped 32 of the 34 he faced, one was an empty netter. It was the most slot shots any team has allowed in a game in the last 4 seasons.
Not to be outdone, the Blackhawks allowed an NHL record 33 shots against in the 2nd period of Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay and a total of 31 slot shots against – 2nd most in a game to Anaheim’s 35.
So, what is it that is causing these teams so much trouble defensively? Well, Chicago gets burned in transition and Anaheim gets hemmed in its own zone and cycled to death. The Blackhawks have allowed an average of 9.25 scoring chances off the rush per game, the most of any team in the league and allowed 14 in their last game against the Lightning, the most any team has allowed in a game all season.
The Ducks have allowed the opposition to possess the puck in their end for 8:22 per game, most of any team in the league and allow 15.2 scoring chances from cycle plays per game, also the most of any team.
The Hawks can’t handle team speed, the Ducks can’t defend in-zone.
If you have any doubts as to who the league MVP has been in the early stages of this season, and I have none, the rest of this paragraph should provide some illumination. The Anaheim Ducks allowed 25 or more slot shot attempts against in a game six times last season. They have allowed 25 or more in all 9 games played this season.
John Gibson has started 7 of those games and despite the disproportionately high number of high-danger chances against, he’s rocking a .949 save percentage, best of any goalie who has faced at least 100 shots.
Gibson has faced 128 shots from the slot, more than any goalie in the league and has stopped 92.2% of them – best of any goalie with at least 50 slot shots against. I believe Gibson was a top-3 goalie last season and I have zero doubt he’s been the best player in the NHL so far this season.
So, what does this all mean for tonight’s game in Chicago? Well, I’m reluctant to say it’s going to be a goal fest for a couple of reasons. The Hawks are a high event team in that they allow a ton but they also create a ton. Problem for them, Gibson has been a brick wall so (assuming he starts) even if Anaheim gets filled in, which it likely will, it doesn’t automatically mean the Hawks will fill the net. As for the Ducks, they struggle to create chances offensively so even though the Hawks are a disaster defending teams with speed, Anaheim’s lack of it likely won’t allow them to exploit Chicago’s greatest weakness. The Ducks are averaging 3.3 odd-man rushes and 4.4 rush scoring chances per game, both 29th in the league.
This one could go any number of ways but I’ll be watching for sheer entertainment value. I have a feeling it will be another 25+ attempts-from-the-slot night for Gibson and if he’s not as brilliant as he’s been so far this season, Chelsea Dagger might get a workout at the United Center.
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)