Blackhawks: Vermette gaining victories, confidence on face-offs


Blackhawks: Vermette gaining victories, confidence on face-offs

Winning face-offs: the Blackhawks have had their moments in that category, with Jonathan Toews long being the most consistent player there.

It was one of the reasons Antoine Vermette was acquired by the Blackhawks at the trade deadline. His first round numbers, coming off healthy-scratch status in the first two games against the Nashville Predators, were OK.

“It’s match-ups, sometimes,” said Vermette, who admitted he wasn’t sure what his first-round win percentages were. “You get to know the opponent a little better than some guys. Sometimes you get on a roll as well and you get a little rhythm in your face-off as well.

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Well, Vermette got on a roll that had him at his face-off best in the second round.  After winning 44.4 to 65 percent of his face-offs against the Predators, Vermette took off against the Minnesota Wild, his winning percentages ranging from 55.6 percent (Game 3) to as high as 80 percent (Game 4). All those victories were a big help for the Blackhawks, who swept the Wild and will face the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final, beginning on Sunday.

“I thought he improved tremendously in the dot. [When] you’re out there against other lines, in your own end, the emphasis on winning or just getting it out cleanly is what we look for. And he won several big faceoffs in our own end, and it helps us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He did a good job; I thought he progressed in his 5-on-5 play, as well. So it was a good series for him.”

Confidence is a pivotal part of any player’s game. Vermette’s confidence probably wasn’t too high as the playoffs began, and he was a healthy scratch in Games 1 and 2 vs. Nashville. But as he’s played through this postseason he’s looking better, especially in the face-off circle.

Still, it’s a fine line between a face-off win and loss.

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“It’s pretty tight,” Vermette said. “At that point you hear a lot about details: every team, every center tries to do the best with it. Certainly the faceoff area, everyone’s trying to get an advantage right off the bat. You start with the puck or you’re chasing it; the difference is slim. Sometimes you get bounces here and there but for the most part, you try to give yourself a better chance.”

Vermette has given himself and the Blackhawks a chance with his face-off victories. He has won 67 of his 104 postseason face-offs (64.4 percent). He knows that percentage is a bit inflated – Toews is at 50.7 percent, but has taken 123 more face-offs this postseason. Still, he’s back to winning at the dot, which is his strength.

“I’ve been around enough to know that, you want to reach for that [higher percentage] for sure but 55 is usually pretty good. You want to be that,” said Vermette, who says he’s feeding off that confidence. “There’s momentum, timing, different opponent. There’s a good thing going on you want to feed off it, for sure.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'


Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?