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.”