If you flip on any NHL broadcast you’re bound to hear a conversation about faceoffs. Specifically, you’ll probably hear a discussion about how a team’s performance in the circle has contributed to the game thus far. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of analysis, but are we all reading too far into faceoffs? Will a high or a low faceoff percentage make that much of a difference?
The New York Rangers are making the faceoff statistic look pretty meaningless this season. The Rangers claimed the Presidents’ Trophy this season and are entering the playoffs as the top team in the league. Surely they’ve held their own when it comes to faceoffs, right? Wrong. Through 81 games, the Rangers have one of the worst faceoff percentages in the NHL. To be specific, they are 29th in the league with a winning percentage of 46.8 in the circle.
The top-3 teams in terms of faceoff win percentage this year may contain a couple of surprising teams. Here’s how things look after Tuesday’s action: 1) Boston – 53.6%, 2) St. Louis – 53.5% and 3) Carolina – 53%. If you’re trying to discredit faceoffs, you’d have a pretty easy time considering the Bruins and Hurricanes are two leaders in the category and neither team will compete in the playoffs.
Just for fun, let’s check out 2013-14. The following is a list of where the top-3 teams in the league in terms of points ranked in the faceoff category.
1. Boston – 51.6% (8th)
2. Anaheim – 49.2% (20th)
3. Colorado – 49.5% (19th)
What about the lockout-shortened 2012-13?
1. Chicago – 50.8% (11th)
2. Pittsburgh – 51.5% (7th)
3. Anaheim – 47.5% (26th)
As with any stat, it’s important to remember that there will always be outliers. Faceoffs obviously play an important role if you lose a draw in your own zone and it results in a scoring chance, but it’s clear that regular success in the circle may not always translate to wins. If you lose a draw in your own zone and quickly close the gap or block a shot, suddenly losing draws in your own zone may not mean as much as the broadcasts lead you to believe. Draws are critical in key moments and key situations (say when the goalie is pulled or on the penalty kill), but when it comes to the standings, other stats (puck possession, for instance) are more worthwhile.
Faceoffs may be comparable to the hits statistic. How often has a broadcast applauded a team for outhitting the opposition? It happens regularly despite the fact that winning the hits category usually means you’re chasing the opposition and failing to possess the puck. That’s not always the case, but it’s a rule of thumb that you are chasing the game if you’re throwing a lot of hits.
It’s doubtful that broadcasts will shy away from ranting and raving about faceoffs, but it’s important for fans to know that the stat doesn’t hold much value over the course of a full season.