Canucks Benefiting From Faceoff Success

Does winning faceoffs mean that a team is more likely to win hockey games?

On Saturday night, we saw Manny Malhotra win yet another faceoff, this one in less than traditional style by sweeping his free hand over the puck and pushing it back to his teammate. When you’re second in the league in faceoff percentage, averaging over 62-percent from the circle, you know how to get it done, even if some creativity is occasionally involved. In fact, with the help of Ryan Kesler, the Vancouver Canucks have managed to climb to the top of this increasingly highlighted statistical category, winning draws more than 55-percent of the time.

With the Canucks in first place in the league standings and the bottom ranked team in faceoff percentage, the Edmonton Oilers, sitting in last place in the league standings, it is worth seeing if there might be some co-relation between winning draws and earning victories.

It would make sense that clubs that control the puck off the draw spend less time each shift chasing after their opponents, put themselves in fewer dangerous situations in their own end, are less penalized for lazy icing calls, are better able to execute on the powerplay and benefit their penalty kill. When added up, these should lead to more wins, whereas the lack of faceoff success should in theory lead to more losses. After compiling the data the results are in, and they are pretty surprising.

While the Canucks share the distinction of first place in both the league standings and faceoff percentage, they appear to be an anomaly. In fact here are the rest of the top 10 faceoff teams.

1. VAN           55.5
2. SJS              53.6
3. WSH           52.6
4. DET            52.2
5. FLA            51.9
6. PHX            51.9
7. NJD            51.7
8. CBJ             51.3
9. NYI            51.2
10. LA            50.8

Comparing the top ten teams in the league standings to the above list sees only Vancouver, Detroit, and Washington appear on both. I’m no statistician, but that seems like a pretty weak correlation. It is equally striking that teams like the Islanders and Blue Jackets apparently know how to win a faceoff, but aren’t quite sure what to do with the puck once they have it, as their records show.

An equally weak link is between bad teams and teams that can’t win faceoffs. The following are ten the worst faceoff teams:

21. COL          49.6
22. CHI           49.6
23. ATL          49.3
24. STL           48.5
25. CGY         48.4
26. ANA         47.9
27. BUF          47.3
28. NYR         46.3
29. CAR          44.3
30. EDM         43.8

Again only Atlanta, Colorado, Buffalo and Edmonton have the dubious distinction of being in the bottom ten teams in the league in both faceoff percentage and the standings. Once more, we see weak correlation between these two categories. While most of these bottom third teams are likely to miss the playoffs, we may see a team like Anaheim get into the dance while losing the majority of their regular season faceoffs.

So what conclusions can be drawn from this? I’ll leave the interpretations up to you, but my feeling is that based on the evidence. For playoff quality teams, winning faceoffs gives them that much more of an edge. But for subpar teams, it makes earning victories that much trickier, and critically with almost all the bubble teams at or near 50-percent on the dot. That seems to draw the line between playoff and non-playoff clubs.

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