Things are going very well for the Chicago Blackhawks. Their record is 14-9-5 with 33 points. The season has officially hit the halfway mark, and they’re sitting comfortably in the fourth seed spot in the Discover Central Division. The Columbus Blue Jackets, who sit behind them in fifth place in the division, have 26 points. A seven-point lead for Chicago, considering the trying state that Columbus is in, feels more like a 50 point lead.
It wasn’t expected that the team would be sitting in a playoff position at this point. That means that it’s time to address some of the struggles they have been facing. During our show, Blackhawks Banter, our Blackhawks’ team comprised of myself, Gail Kauchak, Greg Boysen, and Shaun Filippelli will discuss all that and more! Here is a glimpse of the topics that will be covered.
We are all aware of how much head coach Jeremy Colliton loves to shuffle up the line combinations. However, as of late, there has been one move on his end that has been surprising. Center David Kampf has been promoted to the second line from the third and fourth lines. His ice-time has gone up exponentially as a result. In the last five games, he has averaged 16 minutes of ice time. My question to the team is: Do you agree with Colliton giving him an increased role on the second line?
Unfortunately, coach Colliton doesn’t have a whole lot of options with centers Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach both out and Dylan Strome currently sidelined with concussion issues. I’m a little surprised Kampf gets that spot over Carl Soderberg, who has more experience and arguably a little bit more offense in him, or Philipp Kurashev; but Colliton appears to like Kurashev on the wing for now.
The coach obviously likes the combination of Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Hagel. He did mention in a recent interview he feels having Kampf and Kubalik together allows him to get Kuby on the ice more, which was a point of contention with fans and analysts earlier in the season. Kampf can win those faceoff battles to help gain possession, he’s defensively responsible, and he has a knack for tilting the ice in the right direction. Kubalik has the finish, and Hagel has that added tenacity, speed and energy to add to the line. So while this experiment could change before we actually meet Monday night to further discuss it, I’m not necessarily surprised or unhappy with Kampf being on the second line.
With Strome on injured-reserve, somebody has to play on the second line. I don’t have a problem seeing if Kampf can get his offensive game going. However, he is the new Marcus Kruger. He might show some flashes of some offense, but his play when the team doesn’t have the puck is why he is here.
As odd as it may seem to see Kampf that high within this lineup, we have to remember that Chicago is missing some key centres at the moment. It’s also hard to argue with rewarding their best faceoff man. While he isn’t a typical top-six forward, putting him in a position to help the team gain possession is what’s best for all. Even though he’s goalless to this point in the season, any success he is finding at the circle is a direct benefit to the potential production of those around him. Might as well let those who do best with the puck have the most ideal centreman there to get it to them.
I don’t necessarily like Kampf on the second line. I understand that they’re limited with our center options because of the injury report, but as Gail alluded to earlier, I would rather have Soderberg on the second line because of his offensive capabilities. The Blackhawks have a lot of problems scoring at even strength, so I think that would be a better choice. I think Kampf fits better in the third and fourth lines.
Speaking of centers, the Blackhawks are struggling greatly in the faceoff circle. The only players on the team with an average above 50% in the dot are Kampf at 55% and Soderberg at 53%. Right now, the Hawks rank at 25th in the league, with their team faceoff percentage (FO%) at 47.1%. Frankly, do you worry about how this can impact the rest of their season?
Faceoffs are obviously just one facet of the game, but winning them sure makes things easier on your team. This is where Toews is sorely missed. Soderberg helps make up for it a little bit, and I’m sure this is exactly why they signed him in late December. They hadn’t announced it yet, but I’m guessing the organization knew Toews wouldn’t be available when they made that deal. Let’s hope the youngsters can continue to work on faceoff success. Pius Suter’s had games where he’s done well in the dot and others where it’s been the opposite. Hopefully, he can improve this aspect of his game.
Lucas Wallmark has a 50.9 career FO%, but this season it’s only 41.7 percent. Perhaps he could be an option to step in and step up. This could get better if he’s given more of a chance to play center and practice draws. The long and the short of it remains the Blackhawks can use all the help they can get to make a serious playoff push. Improved faceoffs would be beneficial.
Faceoffs are one of the most important facets in the game. They can make or break a close game if you can’t consistently start a shift with puck possession. The more time this Blackhawks team has the puck, the better their chances are for success. Losing the initial faceoff on a power play is one of my biggest pet peeves, and there has been a lot of that lately.
Yes, failing in the faceoff circle is definitely a concern. Teams do often see up and down trends throughout any given season, but the best ones out there find ways to win those important draws the majority of the time. While this would certainly be less of a conversation if Toews and Dach were in the lineup to strengthen their structure through the middle, this team has to find a way to work with what they have and improve however possible. If there is going to be a successful playoff push to finish the season, better results in the dot have to align accordingly.
It does concern me. I think we have been getting away with our faceoff struggles because the other teams that we have faced recently have been hurting, like the Detroit Red Wings and the Blue Jackets. But I worry about how the Blackhawks’ FO% will affect the rest of their games in March against better opponents, like the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. If it starts to negatively impact the team, then I think there needs to be a serious discussion amongst the front office about center depth.
Patrick Kane hit another milestone on March 9 by reaching 1,000 NHL games! Instead of asking all of you about your favorite Kaner memory up to this point, I want to shake things up a bit. He has had some iconic linemates throughout his career. What has been your favorite Kane line thus far?
Kane with Artemi Panarin and whoever was along for the ride at center!
Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Kane
How about you, Blackhawks’ fans? What has been your favorite Kane line?
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.