Faceoff dilemma confronts Blackhawks as David Kampf struggles, rule change doesn’t help
After a bad 2018-19 season in the faceoff dot, the Hawks were dominated on draws again in their 2019-20 season opener.
The Blackhawks knew entering their season opener Friday against the Flyers that they faced one distinct disadvantage: They were 20th in the NHL in faceoff percentage last season; the Flyers were first.
But coach Jeremy Colliton hoped two factors would help overcome that: the offseason additions of three capable faceoff men and the NHL rule change that allows the offensive team to pick the side of the faceoff after icings and penalties.
Colliton quickly realized his optimism was misplaced.
‘‘I knew we were struggling, for sure,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘[The Flyers have] some guys who are really good, and they’ve got a lefty-righty situation on a lot of lines, so that’s a benefit for them.’’
The Hawks won only 22 of the 58 faceoffs (38 percent). Colliton has said he thinks only offensive- and defensive-zone faceoffs matter, but excluding those in the neutral zone actually made the numbers worse: the Hawks won 36.5 percent of non-neutral-zone draws.
This isn’t a new problem. The Hawks would have ranked far below 20th last season if not for Jonathan Toews, who took the fourth-most faceoffs in the NHL and ranked 10th in the league with a 56.3 winning percentage. Every other Hawks center was below 50 percent.
So this summer, the front office unloaded Artem Anisimov (45.7 percent) and Marcus Kruger (48.1) and brought in Ryan Carpenter (52.6 with the Golden Knights), Zack Smith (49.1 with the Senators) and Andrew Shaw, who had been above 54 percent in two of the last three seasons with the Canadiens.
Better yet, Carpenter and Shaw are both righties. That’s notable, considering every Hawks faceoff-taker last season was lefty. Players are typically better on their strong sides — right-side draws are easier for right-handed players because they can come in with leverage on their backhands — so that new flexibility excited Colliton.
‘‘That’s a strength if you have multiple players who can take a faceoff,’’ he said during training camp. ‘‘Maybe that’s just being more aggressive with the first guy because we’re not so worried about getting thrown out. All those things add up to winning a few more and having some more puck.’’
But none of those seemingly good signs led to tangible results Friday. Smith took three left-side faceoffs but went 1-for-3. He also took a right-side draw when Carpenter was booted and lost that one, too.
Shaw went 1-for-2 on right-side draws, and lefty Dylan Strome went 5-for-11, mostly on the left.
Even the new league rule couldn’t help the Hawks. Despite being able to choose the side on Flyers icings, the Hawks went only 3-for-7 on those draws. To start power plays, they were 1-for-2.
Toews (8-for-22) contributed significantly to the Hawks’ poor numbers, but that can be chalked up as a fluke rather than a long-term concern.
But the No. 3 center spot, already a weakness coming in, can’t be. David Kampf lost his first eight faceoffs and finished 4-for-13. That’s not particularly surprising, considering he won a feeble 45.3 percent last season.
Colliton likes Kampf, however. So if he maintains his hold on the No. 3 center spot, his faceoff deficiency might make some new linemates necessary. Neither Dominik Kubalik nor Brandon Saad, Kampf’s wingers Friday, have experience taking draws.
The Hawks will have a more manageable faceoff matchup this week against the Sharks, who ranked 15th last season. But another poor performance might spark some serious faceoff anxiety.