Dylan Strome’s early-season slump leading to lesser role in Blackhawks’ lineup

Strome’s six-game point drought, awful faceoff rate and poor possession stats have cut into his playing time and potentially bumped him out of his preferred position.

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Dylan Strome has gone six consecutive games without a point.

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February hasn’t been kind to forward Dylan Strome.

His offensive production has evaporated. His faceoff ability, always a weakness, has reached a breaking-point level of awful. 

Those factors have combined to tank his playing time and potentially cost him his center role.

Yet Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton, who’s fully capable of voicing displeasure with team or individual performances despite his generally calm demeanor, remains positive when discussing Strome.

“We’ve got to be careful to look too much into the results, as far as how you’re evaluating guys,” Colliton said Sunday. “[Strome] can play better, for sure. I think he would agree with that.

‘‘But we believe in him. And he’s one of those guys, if we can get him back to the level he was playing at to begin the year, [who] can really help us. We’ll work together at that.”

First, the aforementioned results. Strome has gone six games without a point and has only eight in 19 games. Only two have come at even strength.

Part of that is due to poor shooting luck: His five-on-five shooting percentage has plummeted from 13.9% from 2018 to 2020 to 4.8% in 2021, and that eventually will rise again. 

But part is due to avoiding the dangerous areas, generating less transition offense and being less clean with the puck.

Strome’s individual shot frequency has increased slightly, but the percentage of those attempts that are scoring chances has dropped from 67% last season to 46%. His takeaway-to-giveaway differential is also down from plus-four (30 takeaways, 26 giveaways) last season to minus-six (seven takeaways, 13 giveaways).

In the faceoff circle, Strome’s strong start — so strong that it prompted questions wondering what he’d done during the offseason — has devolved into a horrendous season.

In his last 15 games, he has won 74 draws and lost 115, a 39.2% success rate. A left-hander, he has been slaughtered by right-handed opponents. Among the top 100 players in terms of total faceoffs, Strome ranks 93rd in win percentage.

And Strome’s possession proxy stats also are poor. For the season, his 44.4% on-ice scoring-chance ratio ranks 15th on the Hawks, and his 42.4% on-ice shot ratio ranks 20th. 

During an especially brutal 11-game stretch from Jan. 26 to Feb. 15, Strome’s ratios in those categories were 36.8% and 37.7%, respectively.

Strome was better Wednesday in Detroit and Friday in Carolina, with a 9-3 scoring-chance advantage in the two games. That improvement came on fresher legs, though, as Strome’s ice time — steadily above 15 minutes for the season’s first 14 games — dipped to 12:16 and 12:20.

“He had some chances last game,” Colliton said. “He had the slot play in the second period where he just missed. We had a couple of two-on-one [rushes] that didn’t work out. [On] one, we created a chance off his pass. If the puck goes in the net, then it’s a different narrative.”

For a while, Strome has been centering the second line with Dominik Kubalik on his right and, lately, Brandon Hagel on his left. That’s a favorable spot for him: He struggled during his stints on the wing last season, even though the center-to-wing transition is easier than wing-to-center for most players, and was outspoken about his higher comfort level at center.

In practice Sunday, however, Strome was demoted and moved to the wing, landing on the third line with Carl Soderberg and Mattias Janmark. 

Lucas Wallmark operated as the second-line center, and Philipp Kurashev was bumped to the fourth line. Colliton implied later that the Hawks won’t use those exact combinations Tuesday against the Blue Jackets.

But he did say they’re “going to try something different” with Strome.

Clearly, it’s about time.

Update: Strome was placed in concussion protocol Monday and missed the Hawks’ Monday practice, adding another obstacle to his difficult February.

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