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Face-off Struggles Plague Preds in Game 1

Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 12:01 PM CT / Features
By Doug Brumley  - Nashville Predators
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Face-off Struggles Plague Preds in Game 1

Often overlooked as trivial or a game of chance by the casual fan, face-offs can play a huge role in a hockey game. Just look at Friday’s Game 1 of the Round 2 playoff match-up between the Nashville Predators and the Phoenix Coyotes, where a face-off win by Martin Hanzal led directly to Ray Whitney’s game-winning goal in overtime.

Winning these set scrums for the puck gives your team possession and the ability to manage the game for a brief period of time. String a lot of these wins together and you can manage your risk to some degree by keeping the puck off your opponent’s sticks.

Entering Round 2 of the playoffs, the Predators and Coyotes were neck-and-neck in face-off performance: Phoenix ranked seventh in the playoffs (winning 50.6 percent of their draws), Nashville ranked eighth (50.1 percent). But the results weren’t nearly that even in Game 1, with the Predators winning just 32 of 78 face-offs (41 percent). It was Nashville’s worst performance in the face-off circle in six playoff games this April.

“To me the area that we have to be a lot better is face-offs,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “We ended up losing the game on a face-off. That first period it was 21 percent. That's not good enough for playoff hockey.”

Given the significance of the face-off, each team has its own specialist at the art/skill. Over the course of the regular season, Nashville’s Paul Gaustad and Phoenix’s Boyd Gordon ranked seventh (57.3 percent) and eighth (56.8) in the league, respectively. The two lived up to their advance billing in Game 1. Gaustad was dominant, winning nine of 13 draws (69 percent), and Gordon went 13 of 22 (59 percent).

But those two weren’t the difference in the series opener. Removing Gaustad’s impressive numbers, the Predators won just 23 of 65 face-offs taken—a success rate of 35 percent. Given the fact that coaches typically save face-off rock stars like Gaustad for the defensive zone draws—the ones closest to their net and therefore the most threatening—one can begin to see the circumstances that limited defenseman Shea Weber to just two shots on goal Friday. Weber, who led Nashville in shots through the first round, often gets to tee up his wicked slapshot from offensive-zone face-off wins. (See the clip below for an example from Game 1.)

“Winning a draw is not purely the centerman—it's the wingers helping out too,” Trotz said. “But the centermen have to be, I'll say, a lot more effective in the circle. If you're not winning the draws, at least go for the tie and tie 'em up and then get some help from your wingers.”

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WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - DAL 82 50 23 9 267 230 109
2 x - STL 82 49 24 9 224 201 107
3 x - CHI 82 47 26 9 235 209 103
4 y - ANA 82 46 25 11 218 192 103
5 x - LAK 82 48 28 6 225 195 102
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7 x - NSH 82 41 27 14 228 215 96
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9 COL 82 39 39 4 216 240 82
10 ARI 82 35 39 8 209 245 78
11 WPG 82 35 39 8 215 239 78
12 CGY 82 35 40 7 231 260 77
13 VAN 82 31 38 13 191 243 75
14 EDM 82 31 43 8 203 245 70

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2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
F. Forsberg 82 33 31 1 64
R. Josi 81 14 47 -3 61
J. Neal 82 31 27 27 58
S. Weber 78 20 31 -7 51
M. Ribeiro 81 7 43 11 50
C. Smith 82 21 16 4 37
M. Ekholm 82 8 27 14 35
R. Johansen 42 8 26 10 34
R. Ellis 79 10 22 13 32
C. Jarnkrok 81 16 14 1 30
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Rinne 34 21 10 .908 2.48
C. Hutton 7 5 4 .918 2.33