It’s already happening, so perhaps it’s too late to steel ourselves against the oncoming backlash to the Hawks’ two-week stretch of competence, and even excellence at times. Every non-Hawks inclined observer is going to point out that over the past eight games the Hawks have shot 14.4% overall and gotten a save-percentage of .935 and when you get those you’ll probably win six or seven of eight, as the Hawks have. And that’s it’s not sustainable. Hell, did it myself. Rose alluded to it in her Sugar Pile today.
In some ways, it was kind of perfect that the Hawks played the Sabres last night, as you’ll recall that the Sabres won 10 in a row last year about this time of year, and far too many people used it as evidence that the Sabres were BACK or RELEVANT. And they most certainly were not either of those.
One difference is that seven of those 10 wins the Sabres managed were in overtime or a shootout. Only one of the Hawks’ streak here is in extra time, and that was the win in Anaheim. Regulation wins are a little more indicative, though obviously don’t tell a whole story.
And it’s always a worry when a team has to binge wins simply to get into the playoff discussion, not even in the playoff picture or at the top of any division. Because no matter what the process is or what has happened, the Hawks are not going to win six of eight games the rest of the season. Sitting one point out of the last playoff spot with multiple games in hand on Cal and Gary and Vegas is a nice place to be, considering where it started. But also the Knights and Flames are almost certainly better teams than the Hawks, and when the Men of Four Feathers fall off this pace the fear is that the pack will again move away from them.
Hawks critics, or even neutral observers, will quickly point out that the Hawks have the second best PDO in the league for the season, at 1.032 at even-strength (they drop to third at all-strengths, so not much difference). The other teams around them in that category are all near or at the top of their divisions. Colorado, the Islanders, the Bruins, and the Canadiens. You kind of have to be lucky to be good in the NHL.
The thing is, the Hawks are built to be lucky.
“Lucky” meaning that they’re built to have a PDO over 100. 100 has always been considered the neutral number, or the “right” one (quick primer if you’re lost: PDO is your save-percentage and shooting-percentage added together. It’s generally thought these things “normalize” at 100, much like BABIP in baseball at .300). If you stay above that for any stretch, most tend to think there’s air in your results and you’ll come back to Earth eventually, and vice versa.
Yeah, here’s the thing though, or one of them. If you look at save-percentages for goalies for the five seasons previous and this one, the Hawks have two of the top six in Lehner and Crawford (min. 200 appearances). Not only do the Hawks have a very good tandem, they actually have one of the best in recent memory, considering the pedigree.
So if you look at the Hawks’ overall save-percentage of .923…Crawford’s career SV% is .918, and .919 if you throw out last year’s injury-filled mess. Lehner’s career mark is also .919, so one has to ask how far the Hawks are really going to drop off that current .923 team save-percentage they have right now. At evens, Crow’s career mark is .926 and Lehner’s .923. So yeah, maybe they can’t quite keep up this current .940, but it’s also unlikely they’re coming off it that much either. That said, given the amount of shots they’re giving up a drop of 10 points, which would still leave a sterling .930, would be a big problem and result in a tsunami of goals against.
The Hawks are also top-10 in shooting percentage at evens, at 9.2%. That would be a high-water mark for them for the past five seasons or so, as they’ve never been above 8.9%. And maybe there are a couple outliers here. Kirby Dach is probably not going to score on a quarter of his shots going forward, as he currently is. We have no idea on Dominik Kubalik and his 10% mark. Nylander and his 11% mark? Don’t know either.
There are some the other way. We know that Debrincat is a much better finisher than his current 9.5% mark shows. Toews is currently running five points under his career mark as well. Others seem to be right around their mark. So again, 9.2% for the season is maybe a little swollen, but it’s also not outlandish. Five teams finished with a SH% over 9.0 last year, so it’s hardly unheard of. Of course, they were the Caps, Lightning, Leafs, Flames, and Sharks, teams you think of as having far more firepower than the Hawks currently do.
If the Hawks indeed had a plan this summer, and you’ll never convince us they did, this was it. The team might have faults and systemic rot, but at the ends of the ice where the things that happen that determine results, the Hawks would be better than average. Maybe much more so. They would get great goaltending and they would have finish, and they’d do their best to figure out the in-between, though they would almost certainly not come close in process.
We’ve always been process guys, not results guys solely. And the process still kind of blows. The Hawks are giving up three more shots per 60 at evens than anyone else, which is the same difference between the second-worst team (Rangers) and the 10th-worst (Leafs). Their expected-goals against is second-worst. Even over these two weeks, their expected goals against has only improved to eight-worst.
But given the saves and finish, the Hawks probably don’t need to “win” the attempts and chances battles, because they’ll get more goals with what they get than most, and they’ll get more saves than most. Those scales can slide a little in the wrong direction. It’s just a question of how much.
These Hawks were built to ride the wave longer than most. Even if it proves to not be enough.