In spite of Jonathan Toews’ best efforts, the Blackhawks have lost more faceoffs than they’ve won in each of the last seven seasons. Not since their 2014-15 Stanley Cup season have they finished above 50% in the circle as a team.
But this season, Toews is finally receiving support at the dot.
The Hawks led the NHL with a 57.0% team faceoff winning percentage entering Wednesday — a far cry from their 16th-place finish last season (with a 49.6% winning percentage) and 29th-place finish the season before (with a 46.3% winning percentage).
Toews, one of the best draw-takers of his generation, continues to do his thing, winning 59.6% of his 213 faceoffs so far. Max Domi has won 61.6% of his 172 draws, ranking fifth in the league individually. Sam Lafferty has won 52.0% of his 98 draws. Jason Dickinson has won 52.2% of his 69 draws. And MacKenzie Entwistle has won 57.5% of his 40 draws.
The team’s results are most impressive in the defensive zone (62.0%) and when shorthanded (59.6%), situations where faceoffs are particularly important and also particularly hard to win (considering the defending team’s draw-taker must put his stick down first). They predictably lead the NHL in those categories, too.
“We’re starting to get known a little bit for being good in the circle,” coach Luke Richardson said Wednesday. “So we have to be ready for teams to adjust.”
The Hawks are experiencing some of that opponent adjustment lately, with the Kings and Jets beating the Hawks in the final faceoff numbers in each of their last two games. (The Hawks had won the majority of faceoffs in nine of 10 games before that.)
They should remain a generally strong faceoff team the rest of the season, though. That’s partly because of the center personnel they’ve assembled, and partly because of the lessons that Toews — although he’s humble about it — and development coach Yanic Perreault, a legendary faceoff-taker during his playing career, impart on everyone.
“I can’t take any credit for that,” Toews said. “They’re working at it and they’re getting better. I shouldn’t say they’re getting better; they’re just good at it. It motivates me to stay on top of my game, too. It’s nice we have a bunch of centermen we can rely upon to take key faceoffs.”
Domi’s results are most remarkable of anyone, considering he’d won only 46.4% of 2,743 faceoffs over his career prior to this season.
He called the general concept of career averages “overrated,” but no one has been able to precisely identify what explains his sudden, dramatic improvement. He suggested simply playing center more regularly is helping, but he did that with the Canadiens from 2018 to 2020 and still produced subpar faceoff numbers during that period.
Whatever the reason, though, he’s certainly allowing the Hawks’ steady first line — with Patrick Kane and Andreas Athanasiou flanking him — to regularly begin shifts with puck possession.
“If you know you’re playing center, you put your reps in, you get comfortable in the dot, you get comfortable with the wingers [and] you get comfortable with the linesmen,” Domi said. “So I’m just getting more consistent playing in the middle.”
Added Toews: “He has good hand-eye [coordination], he’s really strong and he has that low center of gravity. It’s not much different than getting through a guy’s hands and getting under his stick — or over his stick — in a puck battle during play. There’s a lot of similarities. He does all that stuff really well, so that’s probably what makes him tough to beat.”