Faceoffs: The most important 1-on-1 battle in hockey

faceoffSingle-digit-aged mite players everywhere are shrugging their shoulders and rolling their eyes every time coach says it: “Win the one-on-one battles.”

Sorry, kids. Coach is right. You’ll have plenty of time to grasp the fact when you’re writing about it instead of playing.

The amount of times a player beats an opponent to a puck, comes out of the corner with it or gets around the defender for a clean break at the goaltender isn’t measured by stats, but we know how important each of those things are.

There is, however, a one-on-one battle that shows up on the sheet, and it’s maybe the most decisive element of all.

Win more faceoffs, win more games.

Don’t waste too much energy looking back in time for evidence. It’s all here now: Fourteen of the top 17 NHL teams in points, through Monday, have a positive faceoff percentage. On the flip side, only two of the bottom 13 teams in points-gained per game have a positive faceoff percentage.

The Boston Bruins are currently tied for the most wins this season, thanks to their 55.5 percent faceoff success rate. Months ago, the Bruins were hanging with Lord Stanley. The Calgary Flames are the NHL’s worst faceoff team, winning only 44.4 percent of puck drops. In turn, the Flames are the fifth-worst team in the NHL.

The top half of the league in faceoffs combine for 13 winning records, one .500 record and one losing record. The bottom 15 combine for seven winning records, three .500 records and five losing records.

The Vancouver Canucks finished last season as the No. 1 faceoff team in the league, winning puck-droppages at a 54.9-percent rate. They finished the regular season with the NHL’s most wins by five games and almost won the Cup.

Vancouver’s success on the dot is by design, as the Canucks put more emphasis on the draw than any other team in the league.

When in the defensive zone or on the penalty kill, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault will almost always try to get his most efficient faceoff guy – Manny Malhotra – on the ice to take the draw. In the offensive zone or on the power play, Vancouver will put Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler in the circle to earn his team possession.

It has worked, as the Canucks currently boast the No. 1 power play in the NHL and are near the top of the league in getting their guy out of the box before the other team finds the back of the net.

With guys like Malhotra, Buffalo Sabres center Paul Gaustad and Minnesota Wild pivot Matt Cullen in the top five in faceoffs this year, it’s obvious the draw-taker doesn’t have to be the best player on the team. He just has to be really good at winning one-on-one.

I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. Coach put me at right wing.

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