Center depth has been a critical element for the Blackhawks over the last decade of success, and as they look to face the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs for the third time, that position will be a focus once again.
Chicago expects to have Artem Anisimov back from injury to open the postseason. He last appeared in a game in Montreal on March 14. Anisimov finished the season with career highs in goals (22) and points (45).
For the Preds, Mike Fisher appeared in only 72 games and averaged 16:37 on ice per game. That’s Fisher’s lowest average ice time total for a regular season since 2002-03 when he was in Ottawa.
Mike Fisher, Ryan Johansen and Mike Ribeiro were the primary centers for Nashville against Chicago during the regular season. But on February 4, the Preds traded a fourth round pick to New Jersey to acquire center Vernon Fiddler.
The point production from the center position favored the Predators, especially from their top two centers.
- Jonathan Toews – 5 games, 2 goals, 1 assist, 3 points
- Artem Anisimov – 5 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points
- Marcus Kruger – 4 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 1 point
- Tanner Kero – 3 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point
- Ryan Johansen – 5 games, 0 goals, 7 assists, 7 points
- Mike Fisher – 5 games, 2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points
- Mike Ribeiro – 4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point
- Vernon Fiddler – 3 games, 0 points
It is worth noting that Johansen and Fisher were the top two point producers fro the Preds against Chicago this season. Patrick Kane (nine points) and Richard Panik (seven) led the Blackhawks, who also received six points from Duncan Keith and five from Brent Seabrook.
Against Nashville, three Blackhawks centers won more than half of their faceoffs this season.
- Jonathan Toews – 5 games, 61 FOW, 54 FOL = 53.04%
- Artem Anisimov – 5 games, 21 FOW, 37 FOL = 36.2%
- Marcus Kruger – 4 games, 25 FOW, 20 FOL = 55.6%
- Tanner Kero – 3 games, 14 FOW, 12 FOL = 53.9%
However, Nashville didn’t perform poorly at the dot. Here are their faceoff numbers against the Hawks this year:
- Ryan Johansen – 5 games, 35 FOW, 30 FOL = 53.9%
- Mike Fisher – 5 games, 51 FOW, 38 FOL = 57.3%
- Mike Ribeiro – 4 games, 17 FOW, 15 FOL = 53.1%
- Vernon Fiddler – 3 games, 19 FOW, 13 FOL = 59.4%<
1 game with Nashville, 2 games with New Jersey
On March 4, the last time Chicago played Nashville, Toews spent the most ice time against Calle Jarnkrok (12:07) and Colin Wilson (10:45). On that night Fisher spent 66 seconds against Toews. Anisimov spent the majority of his night against Johansen (6:55). Fisher spent 3:39 against Anisimov.
The last two times the Blackhawks faced the Preds in the first round of the playoffs, Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup. While this is a new Nashville team, winning down the middle will continue to be critical for the Hawks to advance.