Tonight on my long drive home from work I listened to the Wild PONDcast (yeah, “PONDcast” is cheezy…but I dig it) and it was Todd Richards’ addressing the media after this morning’s skate. One of the things he spoke about was faceoffs…and it was compelling. If you like, you can listen here.
The Wild have never been a good faceoff team. There have been many games where I’ve summed it up with, “It’d be nice if we could win a faceoff…” Winning faceoffs can be so key. In the offensive zone, it gives you an opportunity to score. In the defensive zone, it keeps the other team from getting high-quality scoring chances and sets up an opportunity to get the puck out of the zone and go on the offensive. A winning team wins more of draws than they lose.
Let’s look at some historical stats for the Wild skaters who took the most faceoffs last season:
Mikko Koivu: 1625 faceoffs taken – 857 faceoffs won – 52.7%
Eric Belanger: 1205 faceoffs taken – 626 faceoffs won – 52.0%
James Sheppard: 870 faceoffs taken – 361 faceoffs won – 41.5%
Compare that with the top centers for the Western Conference champ Red Wings last season:
Henrik Zetterberg: 1189 faceoffs taken – 644 faceoffs won – 53.3%
Pavel Datsyuk: 1135 faceoffs taken – 636 faceoffs won – 56.0%
Kris Draper: 1000 faceoffs taken – 603 faceoffs won – 60.3% <—that’s right, 60 percent!
Valtteri Fippula: 784 faceoffs taken – 409 faceoffs won – 52.1%
The Wings top centers averaged 55.8%. Wild top centers averaged 49.8%. Do the math…that’s a difference of 6%. The Wings scored 289 goals last season, the Wild scored 214. I admit some of that can be attributed to goal-scoring talent, but winning faceoffs gives a grinding team a chance to set up the cycle and run offensive plays. The Wild will need to get better at faceoffs in order to compete for a playoff spot.
Back to Todd Richards in the PONDcast today, he mentioned that while in San Jose he worked with Mike Ricci, who was a career faceoff stud. He got them thinking about faceoffs as the first battle of the game or the first battle of the shift. It’s one of the first philisophical elements of Coach Richards that I’ve taken a liking to, and I hope it helps this season.
Look for faceoff stats and their correlation to goals scored to be a theme here on Wild View from Section 216 throughout the season.