The center position must improve
Often called the most difficult position in hockey, the center position entails many serious responsibilities. Controlling play, creating opportunities and defensive positioning are just a few of the things a centerman will strive for.
Am I missing a big one here? Oh, yeah! Winning faceoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks currently rank 26th in the entire NHL in faceoff percentage, which is no bueno.
The importance of winning faceoffs simply cannot be overlooked. Controlling faceoffs in your own zone can mean slowing momentum for opposing team, which may be controlling the puck brilliantly or on the cusp of scoring.
Not winning these faceoffs could lead to quite a few pucks in the back of the net if Corey Crawford or Scott Darling aren’t having their best game, or a defenseman makes a mistake. And it works the other way as well. Say you’re down a goal with the game on the line and an opportunity to win at the dot in the opponent’s end. You win that faceoff and you could quite possibly set up a game-tying goal. You lose and the entirety of that play is shut down, causing a wasted opportunity.
The Blackhawks are losing the battle for faceoffs nearly every single night. It simply must get better. With the injury to Anisimov, Schmaltz will be given a huge opportunity to polish his ability in the middle over the final stretch of the season. It may be a blessing in disguise, although he’s played very well on the wing with Toews and Richard Panik.
Does this group have what it takes?
Despite some inexperience and streakiness, this Chicago Blackhawks team is absolutely built for the long haul.
Defensively, the Blackhawks are as deep as ever with the trade-deadline addition of Johnny Oduya. The bottom six is an ongoing process that continues to be shaken up from time to time, but the group of interchangeable players is rather solid. Solid checking has been the key here, but shot suppression is definitely another work in progress.
Although it hurts me to give credit to St. Louis for knocking off the Blackhawks in last year’s opening round, that’s all it boils down to. The Blues possessed a better defense and far more depth. However, that situation was addressed brilliantly this year and the Blackhawks look to be in good shape for a long playoff run.