Count Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan as part of the camp that believes the impact of faceoffs on a game’s result can be overstated, but even he would like to see his team succeed closer to 50 percent of the time. As it stands now, Washington is winning just 46.2 percent of its draws, the worst mark in the NHL.
In a wide-ranging interview with reporters Friday, MacLellan said he’s looking to make a forward-for-forward swap ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline but won’t necessarily seek a faceoff specialist.
“I don’t think we can be the level we’re at right now where guys are going 1-12 or 2-11,” MacLellan said. “We need to be close to that 50 percent faceoff-wise. I think we’ve just got to get more competitive in that area. . . . I think it’s a tough add, though, to find a guy. We’re not going to add a guy just to be a faceoff specialist if he’s not a good enough player to play on our team. We’re going to have to find out ways internally to get better on faceoffs.”
In past seasons, the Capitals had center Jay Beagle, consistently in the top five in faceoff percentage, and former coach Barry Trotz would often deploy Beagle with a different line — especially in the defensive zone — so he could take the draw and then change for another winger. Washington replaced Beagle with Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd, who have 48.5 and 39.3 faceoff percentages, respectively. Nicklas Backstrom is the only Capitals center above 50 percent, and not surprisingly, he takes the most draws per game.
“For the centers, plain and simple, we’ve got to be better,” Lars Eller said. “If something’s not working, we have to find a way to adjust. The wingers, we need help from five guys. A lot of times — I don’t know the statistics on it — but a lot of times the loose puck is there on either side without it being an obvious win, and then it’s races and second pucks all the time that we can do a better job of as well. . . .
“I think offensive zone and [defensive] zone draws are obviously more crucial. You’re either going to get pinned in your own zone and get a chance against, or you’re going to get a chance for or a rebound and get possession. Those are just, in my mind, a little more important. They’re all important, but those are more crucial. When you win faceoffs in the 'D' zone or the offensive zone, those tend to have a bigger impact on the game, and it’s a little less with the neutral-zone faceoffs. Just speaking for myself, I’m pretty confident in my ability.”
Faceoff struggles could be contributing to the Capitals' recent slump on the power play; they’re the fourth-worst team on draws in that situation, with a 48 percent success rate. On the top five-on-four unit, winger T.J. Oshie takes a significant portion of the faceoffs, and he has struggled to a 38.6 percentage. When Backstrom is in the dot on the power play, he has won 58.1 percent. The penalty kill has a 48.7 faceoff percentage, which ranks eighth in the league.
“We want to get better for sure, but sometimes it’s up and down,” said Evgeny Kuznetsov, the team’s worst center on draws with a 38.4 percentage. “But sometimes I feel like when it’s key faceoff and we need a win, we always get the win. Maybe we should play more intense every time and don’t try and win where you want. . . .
“Sometimes I feel like if you lose the faceoff, in three seconds you get puck back because they dump the puck on you. You have a chance to break out, right? But at the same time, when we won the faceoff, we have to dump and we kind of giving puck away, so that’s always the 50-50 part. We want to win every faceoff, but sometimes things not going well. It’s just the up and downs.”
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