Blackhawks drawing big early-season crowds but struggling on home ice

The Sabres beat the Blackhawks at the United Center on Sunday.

The Sabres beat the Blackhawks at the United Center on Sunday, dropping the Hawks to 1-5-0 at home this season.

AP Photo/David Banks

The Blackhawks’ attendance through their first six home games of the season has been stellar.

The Hawks’ on-ice performance during their first six home games, however, has not given those stellar crowds at the United Center much to celebrate.

“From the start, the fans are always going, and you want to give them a good show and put our best effort forward,” forward Taylor Raddysh said. “For us to have one [home] win right now, it’s frustrating.”

Indeed, the Hawks’ 3-2 loss Sunday against the Sabres dropped them to 1-5-0 at home so far this season, the worst home record in the NHL. Conversely, their 4-6-0 road record isn’t superb but is significantly more respectable.

Every other team around the league has already won at least three home games, including even the Sharks (who have just three wins in 17 games overall) and the Blue Jackets (who will host the Hawks on Wednesday having lost 13 of their last 14 overall).

The Hawks also started 1-4-1 at home in 2021-22 but, before that, had won at least two of their first six home games every year since 2000. Going by points, this ties for the worst home start in franchise history, equaling 1-5-0 starts in 1997-98 and 1954-55 and an 0-4-2 start in 1936-37.

“I’ve been on the other side of it, when you come in this building and you’re hoping to get a win some nights,” forward Nick Foligno said. “I want to create that again. The fans deserve that. They sell it out every night to watch us play. It’s a great building when we’re playing the right way, and we haven’t gotten the results we need.”

Foligno is nearly but not exactly right about the sellouts — more on that shortly — but he is right to be perplexed and exasperated about the poor results.

Granted, the Hawks’ brutal schedule difficulty has been most pronounced at home, where three of their first five opponents were top-five teams last regular season (Golden Knights, Bruins and Devils) and the other two are the last two Eastern Conference champions (Panthers and Lightning). The Sabres were the first remotely comparable opponent the Hawks had faced at home, and they did outplay them, albeit fruitlessly.

On the other hand, the Hawks don’t just sport the league’s worst home record but also the league’s worst home scoring-chance ratio (40.6%) and second-worst home shot-on-goal differential (minus-47) during five-on-five play. On the road, their 42.0% scoring-chance ratio ranks 29th and their minus-37 shot differential ranks 27th.

It’s a small sample, but it’s strange and alarming nonetheless — and things seem unlikely to improve against the explosive Maple Leafs during the Hawks’ annual Black Friday matinee.

Big crowds, though

The stretch after the home opener before Black Friday is historically the toughest time of the year to sell tickets, making the Hawks’ strong showings at the gate so far especially impressive.

The Hawks’ average attendance sits at 19,002, third-highest in the league (behind the Canadiens and Lightning). Excluding the home opener — the only game they’ve completely sold out — their average attendance is 18,828, representing 95.5% of the United Center’s official hockey capacity of 19,717.

That number is notable because they averaged only 13,622 in home games No. 2 through 6 last season, representing 69.1% of capacity.

Attendance surged to 16,658 in the seventh home game and dipped below 15,000 only once the entire rest of the season, gradually bringing up the average. But this season, the Hawks aren’t starting in that kind of hole, and their per-game attendance graph more closely resembles a straight line than a heart-rate monitor.

It was always obvious that Connor Bedard’s presence would draw bigger crowds, but the degree to which that has been the case has thrilled the Hawks’ business department.


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