SAN JOSE, Calif.—Facing a double-digit deficit for the final playoff spot with the games now dwindling near the single digits, the Blackhawkswhether head coach Brian Sutter wants to admit it or nothave to have an eye on next season.
Although Tyler Arnason's ice time diminished drastically after the trade of Michael Nylander in November, he still figures to be an important ingredient for next year and years to come.
Since Arnason is a center, that means that he's going to have to get better on faceoffs. In order to get better, however, Arnason has to start taking them.
That process began again on this current three-game West Coast road trip, which ended Monday night with a 3-2 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Theo Fleury scored the winning goal 1 minute 26 seconds into overtime on a breakaway. It was the first back-to-back wins for the Hawks since Dec. 30 and Jan. 2.
"Nice to get a winner for a change," Fleury said. "It was a good play by [Andrei Nikolishin]. As soon as I saw [Sharks goalie Vesa Toskala] backpedal, that's when I shot the puck."
Chris Simon and Mark Bell also scored for the Hawks, who watched a 2-1 lead disappear when Wayne Primeau tied the game with six minutes left.
Arnason's struggles to become a competent faceoff man are still a work in progress.
He came into Monday's game against the Sharks winning about four of every 10 faceoffs he takes.
It got to the point where Sutter had linemate Bell take faceoffs instead of Arnason.
"I felt I was so focused on faceoffs it was affecting the rest of my game," Arnason said. "[Not] taking them, I can focus on when the play starts, so if I lose a draw it wouldn't mess up the rest of my shift."
Last Wednesday in Anaheim, Sutter threw Arnason back into the faceoff circle and had him facing one of the best in the business in Adam Oates. Arnason held his own against Oates, winning five of 11.
"It wasn't a complete disaster, I actually won a few," Arnason said. "Hopefully I can get some confidence in the circle."
He followed that up with a respectable night in Phoenix, where he won four and lost five. After losing three of four in the first period Monday, Arnason rebounded and finished 7-7.
For the second straight game, Sutter had Arnason on the ice in the final minute of the third period. Friday it was in mop-up duty as Arnason closed the scoring with an empty-net goal. Monday, however, it was in a tie game.
Sutter may have more young players in his locker room by the end of the week. Last Tuesday, Hawks general manager Mike Smith said he may call up some of the Hawks prospects in Norfolk for the handful of remaining games.
Smith won't call up prospects to have them sit and watch veterans the Hawks have no intention of re-signing, however.
That may cause more friction between a coach who won't concede a playoff spot until the math forces it upon him and a general manager who is already planning ahead.