Face-Offs Can Make The Difference in Game 7

Derek Stepan [photo: Amy Irvin]
Derek Stepan [photo: Amy Irvin]
The Rangers were one of the worse teams in the face-off circle throughout the regular season. Now in the playoffs, it may be the key for them to stay alive.

By the end of the regular season the Rangers were winning draws at a rate of 46.7%, good for 28th in the NHL. The story hasn’t changed much in the post-season, at this point the Rangers are ranked 15th out of 16 in face-offs with a meager 45.3% win rate.

Coming Around

As bad as the Rangers have been in the circle, they have looked better over the past few games. Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault told the media on Wednesday about the significance of being good in the dot, “The last two first periods of games, as far as face-offs, were better, it is an area we have been talking to our team about. Our centers are watching tape and talking to the linesmen about making it a fair drop and we had a better night and we are hoping to have a better night because we are a much better team when we start with the puck.”

(Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Vigneault is referring to game’s 5 and 6 of the series, in game 5 the Rangers were 60% on face-offs in the first period, which is an excellent rate, but as the game drew on Washington started to dominate. Control of the dot steadily slipped in periods 2 (43%), 3 (36%), and Over Time (40%).

Game 6 saw a similar trend for the Rangers. In period 1 they were drawing at 55%, that slipped to 42% in the 2nd period, and finally 41% in the third.

Center Struggles

Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, and Kevin Hayes all display tremendous setup ability on the ice, sadly for the Rangers they have all struggled in the face-off circle. The only Ranger who has been good in the circle has been Dominic Moore who has the best percentage on the team with a 52.8 win percentage. The other 3 centers who take the most draws on the team are Brassard (47.5%) then Stepan (42.7%), and finally Hayes (33.7%).

As you can see the Rangers are losing a significant amount of time where they could be on the attack from the face-off circle. One could expect Kevin Hayes to struggle in this area, as he’s a rookie, as for Stepan and Brassard, they have played plenty of playoff hockey and should not be getting cleaned out the way they have. On that note give Washington credit they have been working like crazy to get the puck off the draw.

Why They Matter

So often on social media I see arguments that suggest face-offs aren’t important, but the fact is, in a series this tight, every inch of space matters. Below are a couple of videos that demonstrate what the Capitals can do if a team gets careless in the circle. If the Rangers are good in the dot tonight, they will make their own lives much easier.