When General Manager George McPhee traded away David Steckel on Feb. 28 as part of the deal that brought Jason Arnott to Washington it was a move that took the best face-off man in the NHL off of the Capitals’ roster. Along with the impact of Arnott, how Washington fares in the faceoff circle for the duration of the regular season and into the playoffs bears watching after the activity at the deadline.
Steckel took the second highest number of faceoffs for the Capitals this season, with 670 total draws and he won 427 of those for a 63.7 percent success rating. His prowess in the faceoff circle is a large reason why Washington’s win percentage ranks third in the league heading into Sunday’s game against the Panthers at 52.3 percent.
More than just the numbers though, not having Steckel means Coach Bruce Boudreau will be calling different names for crucial draws throughout the course of a contest when in the past, those duties would most often fall to the Wisconsin native.
“To me, it’s been a bit of an adjustment,” Boudreau said. “You look down the bench, I’ve been so used to having him down the bench to throw out there -- now you have to mix and match and hope other guys can come to the front and do the job.”
There have been two games since the trade was completed. Against the Islanders on March 1, the Capitals won 46 percent of the draws, winning 31 and losing 36, and against St. Louis on March 3 they won 51 percent, winning 30 and losing 29.
One thing that will help the Capitals on faceoffs going forward is that Nicklas Backstrom’s thumb is slowly beginning to heal. For the first time since Backstrom’s left thumb was fractured against Pittsburgh, Washington’s top center took more than two draws when the Capitals faced the Blues.
Backstrom won 7 of 12 against St. Louis but didn’t take a draw in his own zone. Boudreau said he believes that in another week’s time Backstrom should be back at full strength. Boyd Gordon has also been given more of an opportunity to take important draws and has led the team with 21 and 19 faceoffs against the Blues and Islanders this week respectively.