Behind the Numbers: Steve Ott a Premier Faceoff Man

The loss of Vladimir Sobotka at the end of January put a hole in the St. Louis Blues’ offense in more ways than one. It forced coach Ken Hitchcock to break up a dynamic top line of Jaden Schwartz, David Backes and Alexander Steen, while Derek Roy had to move back to the center position. More importantly, though, the team lost its top faceoff man.

When Sobotka left late in the third period of the Blues’ 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 31, he departed as the league’s faceoff leader with a dazzling 60.9 winning percentage (355-583). Due to inactivity, his impressive numbers dropped off the NHL leaderboard yesterday.

Sobotka is currently the NHL leader in faceoff percentage (Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports)
Sobotka is currently the NHL leader in faceoff percentage (Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports)

After the Blues placed the Czech forward on injury reserve the next day, Hitchcock instantly experimented with multiple forwards in Sobotka’s position. Patrik Berglund, third on the depth chart behind Backes and Sobotka, filled in on important faceoffs while Roy and Steen were also thrust into the middle of the ice.

The result did not weigh in the Blues’ favor. Behind Backes, the Blues simply did not employ a dominating force in the draws. The team had to look outside of its lineup.

Enter Ott

The cornerstone of the Blues’ blockbuster trade deadline deal was the new St. Louis goaltender, Ryan Miller. Coming with him was Buffalo Sabres captain Steve Ott, a much-hated tough guy who made his name known while with the Dallas Stars (2002-2012). Formerly a left winger, Ott brought toughness and a slight scoring touch to the Blues’ bottom-six forward group. Something else that general manager Doug Armstrong saw was a veteran forward who was Buffalo’s top draw taker.

The Blues witnessed their faceoff numbers improve with Ott on the roster. Seen in the table below, Ott was used sparingly in faceoffs at first but has come on strong as of late. Bold indicates that Ott led the team in faceoff wins that given night.

Game STL FO Wins Opponent FO Wins STL Best FO Man Ott’s Totals
Feb. 26 @ VAN 26 30 Roy: 7-10 (70%)
Feb. 28 @ ANA 21 28 Berglund: 5-11 (45%)
March 2 @ PHX 30 33 Steen: 5-10 (50%) 3-3 (100%)
March 4 vs. TBL 27 27 Berglund: 7-11 (64%) 1-3 (30%)
March 6 @ NSH 28 32 Backes: 10-15 (67%) 8-12 (67%)
March 8 @ COL 33 30 Backes: 11-15 (73%) 9-16 (56%)
March 9 @ MIN 35 28 Ott: 9-17 (53%) 9-17 (53%)
March 11 vs. DAL 31 35 Ott: 9-15 (60%) 9-15 (60%)

*Ott tied Backes for the team lead on March 6
**Team leaders had to take at least 10 faceoffs in the game

As the table shows, the Blues were on a faceoff skid when returning from the Olympic break, which contributed to the back-to-back losses. Ott’s three faceoff wins in his first game, two coming in the defensive zone, led to more opportunities awarded to him to win vital draws.

According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sobotka is skating and is expected to rejoin the lineup in the next few days (possibly as early as tonight). When he does, he will not be the only one that can take important faceoffs.

As expected, Ott has added grit to his new roster (seven penalty minutes in six games). The feisty forward doesn’t just see his game end there, though, as he is adding a much-needed punch to the faceoff dot.