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Posted at 03:50 PM ET, 10/17/2010

Nicklas Backstrom leads the way in the defensive zone, but is that a good thing?

The Capitals have struggled a bit with faceoffs these first few games, causing Coach Bruce Boudreau to rely more heavily on Nicklas Backstrom for draws in the defensive zone. That perhaps explains why it took the Super Swede four games to record his first point of the 2010-11 NHL season.

Faceoffs in the defensive zone are extremely important; losing one causes the shots-against rate to be equivalent to the opposing team having a 10-15 second power play. Not counting Backstrom, who has won 60 percent of his defensive-zone starts through the first five games, the Capitals' centers are a woeful 34 percent. If Backstrom continues to be used as Boudreau's No. 1 option for faceoffs in the defensive zone, look for his boxcar stats to take a hit. Here's why:

Since 2007, Backstrom has been deployed in the offensive zone during even strength 59 percent of the time, meaning that for every 100 shifts he took over the last three years during 5-on-5 play, 59 of them started with a faceoff in the offensive zone. His linemate, Alex Ovechkin, was not far behind with 58 percent, allowing Backstrom to start off strong last season with 6 even-strength points (1 goal, 4 assists) in the first five games.

This season, Backstrom has started in the offensive zone just 49 percent of the time -- taking more defensive draws than any of the other pivots -- with a single assist as his only even-strength point scored. If he continues to be used this way, we should see a decline in offensive production, as the data from the last three years shows:

% Starts in offensive zone Points per 60 min. during 5-on-5
25-40 1.19
40-55 1.64
55-70 1.81
Centers with at least 40 games played last three seasons, courtesy of Behind the Net.

While Backstrom's ability to rack up points isn't much of a concern, this does continue to highlight a pressing need for a reliable option at center (either from within the organization or via trade) who can be used in defensive situations. Either way, "Backstrom for Selke" doesn't sound half bad.

Neil Greenberg also writes for Russian Machine Never Breaks. You can follow him on Twitter here.

By Neil Greenberg  |  03:50 PM ET, 10/17/2010

Categories:  Statistical analysis, Statistical analysis

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