We’re still in the “small sample size” portion of the season, so everything that follows comes with whatever sized-asterisk you feel you’re up to today. Anyway, let’s get nerdy:
I’m sure these are the numbers that the coaches would point to as a way to illustrate why Artem Anisimov has to play center for Patrick Kane instead of Nick Schmaltz. The first is the number of goals for the Hawks with Kane and Anisimov together. The second is the number with Kane and Schmaltz, and the latter pairing have almost double the time of the former. In most hockey coaches’ worlds, the results are the results and speak for all.
Except this would ignore every other indicator that shows Anisimov is holding Kane back.
What I’m sure the coaches are also paying attention to is that Schmaltz has been a defensive liability at center, and that’s pretty much always been the case, no matter what takeaway stats they make up. And yes, Kane and Anisimov do give up slightly less together than Schmaltz and Kane did. Attempts per 60 against goes from 62.7 to 57.6, and scoring chances go from 37.0 to 27.2. The first one isn’t that significant and is still bad. Obviously the second number is one that you would notice. The high-danger chances drop as well.
Still, the big number in this discussion is that when Schmaltz and Kane have been on the ice together, the team’s shooting-percentage is 4.2%. Whereas with Anisimov it’s 17.8%. And the downtick in chances and attempts against can be partly explained by the fact that Anisimov and Kane take 85% of their draws in the offensive zone, while Schmaltz and Kane were taking a still aggressively high 74%.
It feels like no matter what you’re doing here, you’re asking this line to outscore its problems, which it pretty much always will with Kane on the ice. And he and Schmaltz just create more chances together. I’ll buy that keeping Schmaltz on the third line spreads out some scoring, especially if Saad can continue to look as good as he has lately. Still, Arty is an obelisk and there could be so much more.
Speaking of Kane, no matter who he has been on the ice with, he is letting fly with the puck far more than he ever has. That’s his shots per 60 minutes at even-strength, which would dwarf his career-high by over two shots per 60 were it to continue. His 16.2% shooting-percentage certainly dovetails nicely with that, though unlikely to continue. Overall, Kane is averaging just at tick below five shots per game, which is basically Ovechkin territory. If Kane were just to hit his career SH% mark with this level of shot-taking, he’d end up with 48 goals, two more than his MVP season.
All of his individual peripherals are way up this year too, such as attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger chances. Not surprisingly, given what we’ve seen, all of the defensive metrics when he’s on the ice are higher as well. Basically, everything is happening when he’s on the ice. Kane has spent a decent portion of time with defensively helpless Schmaltz or Fortin, and they immovable Anisimov. Behind him it’s mostly been Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson, and we know their limitations.
I wouldn’t chalk this up to anything more than the entire team’s nebulous relationship with defense right now, combined with the league’s openness as a whole so far this year, more than Kane giving even less of a shit on one end of the ice than normal. And frankly, I’ll take more high-event hockey with him on the ice, because he’s almost certainly going to outdo whatever the opposition can come up with when it comes to the bottom line, which is goals.
That’s the even-strength save-percentages of Cam Ward and Corey Crawford. Really not all that different, and the Hawks have gotten more out of Ward than we all feared to this point. Interestingly, the difference between their SV% and their expected SV%s, is 0.91 and 0.87, with Ward’s being the higher. So the Hawks are getting plus-goaltending. More encouragingly is neither number is higher than half of what Crawford’s difference was last year, and that was merely to keep the Hawks barely hanging onto a playoff place for half of a season. As you would expect, John Gibson, Pekka Rinne, and Antti Raanta are the leaders in this category, and they’re up over 2% difference. So it’s at least not as bad as last year. Yet.