Two-fifths of the way through the 2011-12 season and it’s hard to spot a weakness on the defending champion Boston Bruins. The B’s lead the league in offense, defense; and own a top rated penalty kill, a potent (if unspectacular) power-play and a goaltending tandem that would make Moog and Lemelin weep.
Perhaps one of the most dominating but underrated aspects of the Bruins’ success has been their outstanding capabilities at the faceoff dot. The B’s draw-takers are ranked first in the NHL and by quite a solid margin.
So far, the Bruins have won over 55 percent of their faceoffs. They’re within striking distance of the highest team draw winning rate since 1997-98 (the 2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes at 56.1%). Like many things about the B’s, it’s as much a matter of depth as it is of skill.
Of course, their renowned two-way centerman and faceoff ace, Patrice Bergeron leads the way with the fourth-best percentage in the League at a sizzling 58.1% after Friday’s action. Bergeron takes nearly every significant draw for the Black and Gold, frequently matching up against the League’s best pivots.
But Bergeron’s not the only impressive man in the middle for Boston. Alongside the Selke candidate are David Krejci, Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell – all of whom are having career years at the dot. Campbell has seen an enormous jump in his winning rate at the dot – from a career sub-50% mark to his currently outstanding 56.1% pace. Kelly and Krejci have made similarly-significant jumps this season from at or below the fifty-percent career rate to above 53% and each has a very good shot at setting a career high in winning percent at the dot this season.
The Bruins embarrassment of riches is so overwhelming that talented faceoff-taker, Rich Peverley (owner of two consecutive seasons of 54+% at the dot) has been limited to 187 draws … despite a superlative 61.5% win rate on the year.
Alright, yeah, they’re winning faceoffs – but is that really so important?
In the ‘new’ NHL where puck possession play is so vital, the importance of faceoffs is growing. . While the professional hockey landscape is increasingly scrutinized by possession-based analytics like Corsi and Fenwick, a play that allows a team to win control of the puck in such a straightforward and easily-examinable way is going to find greater prominence.
While that in and of itself isn’t the most awe-inspiring stat consider that eight of the last twelve Stanley Cup finalists finished the regular season in the top-six in the NHL in draws. It might seem like coincidence but teams that win faceoffs with greater regularity are giving themselves better opportunities to score and defend … and therefore, win.
“During the regular season, there is good correlation between faceoff percentage and shot differential and between faceoff percentage and goal differential. From 1997-98 to present [April 2009], the difference between a very good 55 percent faceoff percentage and a very poor 45 percent faceoff percentage amounted to 6.7 shots on goal (SOG) per game, and 0.7 goals per game on the average.”
“…The most significant result of this analysis is that teams should use their best face-off men on face-offs deep in their own end … they should also use their best face-offs takers in the offensive zone. If a team improves its face-off winning percentage in these situations from 50% to 60% … it can expect, on average, to improve its goal differential by 25 goals over the course of the season. In today’s NHL, this translates into an additional three or four wins…”
So, according to Seppa and Desjardins, the Bruins have probably significantly improved their odds of winning because of their performances on the draw. The Bruins have been particularly successful at translating faceoff wins into goals this season. Just take a look at some of these goals that were the direct result of victories at the dot:
… And of course, this doesn’t show the goals prevented when one of the Bruins several talented centers is able to negate a threat with a key defensive-zone win – particularly on the PK.
The season is a long way from over and the B’s may still end up losing the top spot in the faceoff rankings (or beyond). Their incredible depth at the pivot (carefully cultivated from within system and through several key trades by GM Peter Chiarelli) has undoubtedly been the key factor in creating their faceoff juggernaut. As a result Bruins are well-equipped to maintain their current successes at the dot and continue to convert those successes into wins.