It doesn’t show up in most fantasy statistic categories and fans often don’t pay attention to the percentages, but winning faceoffs is a key to success in the NHL. It is also an area of concern for the Calgary Flames.
The Flames currently find themselves with a team faceoff win percentage of 46.6, good enough for a share (with the Winnipeg Jets) as the worst faceoff team in the league. The importance of puck possession is obvious; it’s pretty hard to score without the puck. The Flames start the vast majority of puck drops trying to win back possession of the puck as opposed to pressing with it.
The Boston Bruins do a tremendous job at highlighting the importance of winning draws. While they’re the sixth-best team in the league at winning faceoffs this season at a clip of 52.0 percent, they tend to amp it up a notch or two come playoffs.
Over the past few springs, head coach Claude Julien has elected to have two centers on the ice for defensive zone faceoffs in tight games and third periods. Julien does this in case his center gets waived out of the faceoff circle for a violation. Instead of having a winger take the draw, he can counter with another player who is also used to taking and winning draws. The last thing you want after your goalie has stopped the play is for the other team to immediately regain possession in the attacking zone and produce goal-scoring opportunities.
When looking at strength down the middle, the Bruins have a perfect balance. Patrice Bergeron, arguably the best faceoff man in the entire NHL, and David Krejci are both right-handed shots while Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell shoot from the southpaw side. Traditionally, a right-handed shot will tend to hit the puck back towards his right side when winning a draw.
This is the ideal situation for faceoffs to the right of the goaltender as they’ll win the puck back towards the corner, as opposed to the front of their net, which is where the puck could end up if a left-handed shot wins a faceoff from that same right dot. Of course, the roles are reversed when the faceoff is to the left of the goalie. With this in mind, Boston can always play two strong-sided faceoff men for their defensive zone faceoffs if they choose to.
All of the Flames’ centers, a group that includes Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, Matt Stajan, Paul Byron and Joe Colborne, are left-handed shots. Not only does this group win the lowest percentage of draws, but they oftentimes face unfavorable matchups as they will be on their weaker side when the draw is to the right of the Flames’ netminder.
With only seven games remaining in the season, this will surely be an area that the Flames will look to improve upon in the offseason because scoring without the puck is rarely accomplished. Just ask Billy Smith.