Blackhawks

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Yanic Perreault came onto the ice as the Blackhawks wrapped up practice on Thursday.

It’s been a relatively common sight the last few seasons. Most of the time, Perreault has helped out when a particular player is struggling from the faceoff dot. That was true with Artem Anisimov earlier this season. But with Jonathan Toews sidelined the Blackhawks have been even more focused on improving upon and winning faceoffs. Thanks to the extra diligence, they’ve done that.

The Blackhawks’ overall faceoff performance has steadily improved. They’ll see how it goes again on Friday night when they face the New York Rangers, their eighth consecutive game without Toews.

“We’re working almost every practice and trying to get better on faceoffs,” Anisimov said on Thursday. “If we win the faceoff, we start with the puck and it’s pretty good. You can go to the offensive zone or win in the offensive zone you start with the puck and you have the opportunity to shoot the puck all day and get chances. It’s a big part of the game.”

Enter Perreault, who was a great faceoff man during his NHL career. The Blackhawks players say Perreault offers a wealth of information in each session.

“It’s different every day. The whole science behind it, he’s been great since he was brought in,” Marcus Kruger said. “He always has something new he wants us to work on, whether it’s just timing or body-positioning or something like that. It’s a lot of different stuff and we work on new stuff every day.”

Rasmussen agreed.

“It’s a lot of things you can work on,” he said. “You try to work on being in a low position so you get stronger. [There are] a lot of small things on how you can go against other guys that do it certain way, and you have to find your own way, too.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Their first game without Toews, against the Anaheim Ducks, was dismal. Part of that is the Ducks having some tremendous face-off guys. But Toews is the Blackhawks’ best at the dot – he’s won 60.3 percent of the time this season – so that first game without him was rough.

Here’s how things have progressed for the Blackhawks, with faceoffs won and lost and percentage, in Toews’ absence.

Opponent Wins-Losses Percent
Ducks 18-49 27 percent
Kings 21-37 36 percent
Panthers 39-35 53 percent
Devils 22-27 45 percent
Flyers 22-31 42 percent
Jets 31-27 53 percent
Coyotes 30-28 52 percent

So yes, there’s been improvement.

“I think we hold our own,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Yan works well with our center men, they take pride in trying to be the best they can and now they’re taking some important faceoffs and some they probably haven’t taken in the past, whether they’re defensive or special-teams faceoffs. They’ve all won some important faceoffs for us at key times, too.”

The Blackhawks have done their best filling the void left by Toews, especially on faceoffs. There’s been a lot of work put into it, especially with Perreault following practices. But the results have been there.

“We know we’d like to start with the puck, and we had a couple of tough games when Jonny went down initially,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been much better since.”

Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

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AP

Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner tandem proving to be exactly what Blackhawks envisioned

LAS VEGAS — The first day of NHL free agency is always exciting for hockey fans, particularly the first hour when most of the moves are announced at a rapid rate. Last offseason, the Blackhawks had a quiet few hours before dropping the hammer on the most surprising signing of the day, Robin Lehner, to a one-year deal.

“I think we have the best 1-2 punch in the league is the way I look at it right now,” GM Stan Bowman said on July 1. “I certainly feel really comfortable going into next season, whether Corey Crawford’s in net or Robin Lehner’s in net.”

So does the entire city of Chicago.

More than one month into the 2019-20 season, the goaltending tandem between Crawford and Lehner is exactly what the Blackhawks envisioned it would be. That’s what happens when you pair a Vezina Trophy finalist with a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

"We got two guys who are outstanding," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think they're both going real well now and that's a huge advantage for us no matter who's in the net, we're getting a chance to win. It gives our guys a chance to come through offensively, so they've been big for us."

After starting the season 1-4-0 with a 3.67 goals-against average and .888 percentage, Crawford has been lights out since the calendar flipped to November. He’s 2-0-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in his last four starts, which includes a 39-save performance in a 5-3 win over the Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Lehner has been one of the league’s best from the beginning. His .934 save percentage ranks second among goaltenders with at least six appearances and his goals saved above average at 5-on-5 ranks fourth-best, according to Natural Stat Trick. Crawford's goals saved above average of 4.21 puts him at ninth.

And this is despite the fact the Blackhawks are giving up the most shots on goal per game (37.1), second-most high danger chances per 60 minutes at even strength (13.1) and third-most scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength (29.2).

While the dynamic may have been awkward at first, both goaltenders appear to be making the best of the circumstances and view it as healthy competition.

"I mean, he's doing a great job," Crawford said of Lehner. "Definitely keeping us in games or being a big factor in some wins. I think both of us are just trying to be at our best when we get the chance."

The challenging part of the situation is getting both guys a fair amount of starts. Crawford has been vocal about preferring to start regularly — “it’s a little bit easier when you keep playing games in a row” — and Lehner no doubt feels the same.

"They both want to play 60 games, 80 games maybe,” Colliton said. “That's part of the team. [Patrick Kane] wants to play 60 minutes. It's how it is. Ultimately, we want to make decisions that help the team win and part of that is keeping both guys fresh, keeping both guys playing at a high level and I think that's going to be a benefit for us as the season goes on."

It’s a good problem to have if you’re the Blackhawks, especially if Crawford and Lehner are at the top of their games at the same time like they are right now.

"It's great," Calvin de Haan said. "I think goaltending's the most important position. If you're not keeping the puck out of the net, you're not going to win a lot of games. But those guys are giving us a chance every night and it's really evident the past few weeks here."

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks overcome two-goal deficit to beat Golden Knights for first time

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USA Today

Four takeaways: Blackhawks overcome two-goal deficit to beat Golden Knights for first time

LAS VEGAS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday:

1. Blackhawks beat Golden Knights for first time ever

The Blackhawks entered this matchup the only team that hadn't beaten the Golden Knights since they entered the NHL in the 2017-18 season. They were 0-5-2 in the first seven games against them, despite having plenty of opportunities to beat them. As recently as Oct. 22, the Blackhawks were 1:33 away from shutting out Vegas before eventually falling in a shootout.

Despite giving up the first two goals, the Blackhawks rallied to score five straight and hung on for their first victory against the Golden Knights. They also won back-to-back games for the first time this season and improved to 3-0-1 in their last four games.

"It's good for the guys, good confidence boost," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "A reminder that we're trending the right way. By no means are we perfect. We got lots of work to do but that's a good team and they're going to be a top team this year, no question, and we took two points in their barn."

2. Wild end-to-end action

The Blackhawks know that their new schematic change will make for some entertaining hockey games. It will be high risk, high reward and fast-paced. And that's exactly what Wednesday was: a track meet between two teams that like to play quick.

The Blackhawks and Golden Knights combined for 116 shot attempts, 68 shots on goal, 59 total scoring chances, 36 high-danger chances (according to Natural Stat Trick) and eight goals. Each team also had a penalty shot, but Zack Smith rang his shot off the crossbar 44 seconds into the game, and Jonathan Marchessault missed on his in the second period.

"Tonight was kind of a track meet," Calvin de Haan said. "We were taking a lot of odd-man rushes here and there, but we were creating a ton at the same time. Obviously we just out-capitalized them. These guys play hard at home and we weathered their storm. It was a fun game to play overall, but there's some things we can clean up. But we got the two points and it's about wins and losses."

3. Blackhawks score five in a row

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in each of their previous three games, the Blackhawks found themselves on the other side of that on Wednesday, with the Golden Knights striking twice in the opening 6:29.

But it didn't faze the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane responded 16 seconds after the Golden Knights went up by two with a goal in his fourth consecutive game, and his team later scored the next four. 

Kane (one goal, two assists) and Dylan Strome (one goal, two assists) each had three-point outings while Kirby Dach (one goal, one assist), Alex DeBrincat (two assists) and Zack Smith (two assists) also had multi-point efforts. It was a huge character win for the Blackhawks.

"That was big," Colliton said of rallying from a two-goal deficit. "Because I thought we were close early. ... We had a decent beginning of the game and we're down 2-0. Maybe five games ago that could have gone south on us but I really liked how we responded."

4. An entertaining goaltending battle between two of the best

When they're both on, Corey Crawford and Marc-Andre Fleury are two of the top goaltenders in the league. And their talents were on full display on national television Wednesday night.

Crawford faced 21 high-danger chances and stopped 39 of 42 shots for a save percentage of .929. Fleury was solid also even though the numbers don’t show it, facing 15 high-danger chances and giving up five goals on 26 shots for a save percentage of .808.

The final score was 5-3, but it could've been much higher if it weren't for the two of them matching high quality save after high quality save throughout the game.

"It was a fast game," Crawford said. "They’re a really good hockey team. I think they lost a few before tonight, so obviously they were gonna be hungry. Seems like they always come out hard in the first period there. But we didn’t fold. We just kept playing. This offense is so good that, we get a little sniff and we’re still in the game. ... It was a fun hockey game."

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