Chicago Blackhawks’ Faceoff Woes Not Cause For Concern

The Chicago Blackhawks seem particularly befuddled at the faceoff dot of late, and it has led to some consternation among fans

When Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went down with an upper-body injury in Wednesday’s game against San Jose, there was ample concern. The first worry was that Toews had suffered another concussion.

But after we learned that wasn’t the case, the next concern was how the Blackhawks would fare on faceoffs without the typically dominant Toews around. After all, Toews’ 60.3 percent success rate ranks third in the league among those who taken 100 or more draws.

The answer to that question through two games with Toews: they’ve fared poorly. The Blackhawks were clocked at the dot Friday against Anaheim and Saturday against Los Angeles, losing the faceoff battles 73-27 percent and 64-36 percent, respectively.

Despite the Blackhawks taking three of four points across those two games, there is now some angst about the non-Toews Blackhawks being unable to win faceoffs at critical junctures. And while it can be frustrating to watch a team lose as many faceoffs as the Blackhawks have in their last two games, it’s far from the end of the world.

Faceoff success doesn’t have to mean wins

Let’s head to the stats, starting with the current regular season. Here are your top five and bottom five teams in faceoff percentage:

Top five: Anaheim (56.9), Carolina (52.7), Boston (52.5), Colorado (52.2), Buffalo (52.0)

Bottom five: San Jose (48.2), Columbus (48.1), Arizona (48.1), Chicago (47.9), Winnipeg (44.3)

How many of those top five currently hold a playoff spot? One, as the Ducks are a wild-card team. And how many of the bottom five hold a playoff spot? Three: the Sharks, Blue Jackets and Blackhawks.

Even if the Blackhawks taking three of four points in these last two games despite being decimated on draws didn’t tell you faceoff success isn’t absolutely crucial to winning, those stats should.

We can go deeper, though. Last year’s Stanley Cup Final participants finished seventh (San Jose) and 15th (Pittsburgh) in regular-season faceoff success. The first-place team in 2015-16, Arizona, didn’t come close to the postseason. And the Sharks added on to this by posting the worst faceoff success rate in the 2016 playoffs.

Not that faceoff success doesn’t help

Of course, there are examples that hammer the idea winning draws equates with gaining points. The 2014-15 Blackhawks — AKA the 2015 Stanley Cup champs — finished fifth that regular season in faceoff success. They placed third of 16 teams in that category during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 2013-14 group was also solid at the dot, taking fifth in regular-season success rate. That did drop to 10th in the postseason, but the Blackhawks were still one win from the Stanley Cup Final.

But then, you’ve got that dominant 2013 Blackhawks outfit. It finished just 11th in regular-season faceoff success and a motley 14th in the postseason.

Winning faceoffs can prove really important in given situations. If you’re on a penalty kill in a 4-on-3 overtime situation, or needing to score with just a few seconds left and have an offensive-zone draw coming up, of course it’s important to win the faceoff.

That’s when draw failure is really brought to light. But over the course of an entire season and heading into the postseason, a team’s faceoff success or failure is not the end all be all so far as whether or not that team will win or lose.

Toews has consistently been a machine at the dot for the Blackhawks, while the Blackhawks have tried to find guys to do half as well alongside him. Marcus Kruger has gone from bad, to good, to average at draws. Artem Anisimov is a great second-line center … outside taking faceoffs. When was the last time the Blackhawks had a bottom-six center not named Kruger who could consistently win faceoffs?

And no one remembers any of that because the Blackhawks just keep winning. And they’re doing the same now. So why the concern?

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