It’s been six games since the Blackhawks fired their longtime head coach Joel Quenneville, replacing him with 33-year old Jeremy Colliton. As we highlighted at the time of the firing, Chicago’s inability to defend had a lot to do with Quenneville getting canned. Whether that’s on the coach or the players he had at his disposal is up for debate but through six games, the Hawks have tightened things up defensively.
Chicago’s goals against have gone down significantly, which is a positive, but it’s too early to tell if there’s been a meaningful shift in the way this team is defending. Most noticeable here is Chicago’s improvement defending the slot. The Hawks have allowed one fewer inner slot shot per game and nearly two fewer scoring chances per game under Colliton, as well as two fewer passes to the slot. Their 2.2 goals against per game since Colliton took over ranks 6th overall and a decrease to their expected goals against shows that there have been improvements to their team defense, which is encouraging. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
The Hawks have seen a sharp decline in goals per game, averaging almost half of what they did under Quenneville. It’s not like they’ve run into a gauntlet of elite goalies either, as Chicago scored two goals in three games against Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, and Cal Petersen, not exactly a lineup of Vezina finalists. Just like their goals against, the small sample size likely exaggerates what we can expect over the long haul, but their numbers are still down in a number of key categories.
It’s important to emphasize once again that six games is a small sample size, but so far, it looks like the Blackhawks have taken a step forward on defense and a nearly identical step back offensively. The Hawks finished last in the Central division last season and the additions of Chris Kunitz, Bandon Manning, and Cam Ward aren’t likely to move the needle much in a loaded division. A coach can only play with the cards he’s dealt and neither Quenneville nor Colliton has been dealt a strong hand. Unless significant roster changes come, it’s going to be tough for any coach to get this team, as currently constructed, into a playoff spot.