Nick Schmaltz’ face-off quandary: ‘He’s got to get better at it’

Rookie forward Nick Schmaltz has been a productive fill-in for injured Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov, with one glaring exception: faceoffs.

After going 1-for-11 on faceoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, Schmaltz is just 5-for-30 in three games in place of Anisimov on the line with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. Anisimov is expected to be out until at least the final week of the regular season with a leg injury.

“He’s got to get better at it,” coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about Schmaltz’s faceoff woes. “Obviously, starting in your own end, sometimes against dangerous faceoff guys, the matchup could be a little heavier. So it’s something he’s got to get better at. But we still like him in the middle with those guys.”

Despite going 18-for-40 (31 percent) at the faceoff circle against the Leafs, the Hawks still outshot them 39-26. But even the Hawks don’t want to play with that kind of fire.

Blackhawks rookie Nick Schmaltz has six goals and 21 points after getting an assist on a Patrick Kane goal Sunday night. But he is 10-for-50 on faceoffs in four games in place of Artem Anisimov. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

Experience is such a big part of winning faceoffs — especially knowing your opponent — that Schmaltz will have to learn quickly to improve.

“Repetition is part of it,” Quenneville said. “Younger guys, it’s a tough league when [opponents] have been taking so many draws over their histories. They know a lot of things that are going to happen prior to the puck being dropped. Strength and quickness and experience [are the biggest factors].”

Hossa, Oduya out

Forward Marian Hossa (lower body) missed his second consecutive game and Johnny Oduya (day off) also did not play against the Colorado Avalanche.

Quenneville is pacing Oduya into the playoffs. Oduya also didn’t play in the second game of a back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings on March 10. The Hawks are 4-1 in games in which Oduya has played since he was acquired from the Dallas Stars — including four consecutive victories. Oduya has one goal and two points, with a plus-2 differential in five games.

“I would say Johnny is comparable to where he was [in 2015],” Quenneville said. “He’s pretty excited about being back here with some of his good friends and an organization he enjoyed being a part of. Johnny is reliable, steady. [The] system is very comparable to where he was when he was here. Play to your strengths and keep it simple and that’s kind of what you get from him.”

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said Oduya is “exactly the same” player he was in 2015.

“Just a couple more gray hairs in his beard,” Hjalmarsson said. “He’s still probably in the best shape on the whole team and maybe in the whole league.”

Welcome, rookie

Northbrook native J.T. Compher, 21, played his first NHL game in his hometown Sunday. A second-round draft pick in 2013 from the University of Michigan, Compher made his debut with the Avalanche against the Ottawa Senators on March  2 and scored his first NHL goal — a game-winner — in a 3-1 win over the Red Wings at Pepsi Center.

“He’s been pretty good for us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We like the development we’ve seen from him. [We’re] putting him in all situations, and he’s handled it well.”

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“He’s been pretty good for us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We like the development we’ve seen from him. [We’re] putting him in all situations and he’s handled it well. He’s a smart, intelligent player and he plays with good pace.”