It wasn’t too long ago the Chicago Blackhawks were in a jam, losing Game Three in Boston to the Bruins, and being shutout for the second time this year. Now, they take the Stanley Cup Final back to the TD Garden on Monday with a chance to end it all. Many things changed in the Blackhawks’ game in the days since, but the Hawks’ faceoff efforts have made the biggest difference offensively.
The Blackhawks struggled in a lot of offensive categories on Monday night, but none was more shocking than the faceoffs. Chicago went an abominable 16-56 in the faceoff circle, which equates to 29%. The most notable of the Blackhawks to have struggles was Michal Handzus, (who was solely traded to win faceoffs) going 0-10 on puck drops. The Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, 2013 faceoff leader, won 24-28 draws, good for 86%. Somehow in the midst of this terrible performance in the faceoff circle, the Blackhawks still came out in Time On Attack, a stat many found hard to fathom.
Two days later, Game Four rolls around, and the Blackhawks got the spark they needed offensively, scoring six goals on the Bruins and goaltender Tuukka Rask, and evening up the series in an overtime win. Faceoffs were much better this time around, with the Hawks winning 38 of 77, or 49%. Andrew Shaw, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marcus Kruger all took over five draws and came out with a 50% average or over.
This is no coincidence. In Game Three, Bruins’ center David Krejci was accused of ‘cheating’ in the faceoff circle, and video evidence after the contest showed that statement to be true, throughout the entire game. The linesmen tightened up their faceoffs in Game Four, and the playing field was level once again, and the Blackhawks could start winning draws of their own.
The ‘Hawks were applauded by the media after Game Four, for making the Bruins conform their skill-focused style of play. They were able to do this because they had the puck more often than not, thanks to their improvement at the faceoff dot. The Blackhawks won key neutral and defensive zone draws, and created their offense off the rush, where the majority of their chances were, and with improvement in net drive and screening, they had their offense back. This stayed true in Game Five, and with thanks to home ice faceoff advantage, the Blackhawks had their best night on the draw yet, winning 58%.
Faceoffs are a key part of the Blackhawks offense, and if they want to finish off this series in Game Six, they will have to win as many faceoffs as they can despite the Bruins having the advantage of home ice. The Blackhawks need to have the puck to control the play, and if they can execute this correctly, they will have a good opportunity to win it all come Monday.
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