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The Oilers' Issue with Faceoffs

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Some troubling numbers when it comes to faceoffs this season.

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Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent interview on Inside Sports, Oilers assistant coach Jay Woodcroft discussed his clubs poor starts and how faceoffs were something they were working on. Full interview below:

To be honest, when I recently took a look at  some of the underlying stats from the Oilers first periods, I didn't pay too much attention to faceoffs. It's not something that has a significant impact on a team's possession ratings (Source: Hockey Graphs) and doesn't really determine the outcome of a game (Source: Arctic Ice Hockey). In the interview above, Woodcroft does talk about the importance of faceoffs and controlling the play, so I figured it'd be worth digging into to see what he and the coaching staff are up against.

Here's a breakdown of the Oilers faceoff win percentages at even-strength this season broken out by period, along with their league ranking.

Period Faceoff Win%
1st period 42.5% (30th)
2nd period 47.9% (19th)
3rd period 56.4% (1st)
Overall 48.9% (23rd)

I think we can see what Woodcroft's concern is now.The Oilers are 23rd overall in the league when it comes to faceoff wins at even-strength. They're the worst faceoff team in the first period, and the best faceoff team in the third.

McLellan had recently mentioned that the Oilers tend to play better once they fall behind and how that's never a good strategy. Based on those comments, I thought it would be worth seeing how they do with faceoffs at different score situations.

Score Situation Faceoff Win%
Score Tied 44.2% (30th)
Oilers Trailing 51.7% (16th)
Oilers Leading 55.8% (2nd)
All Scores 48.9% (23rd)

So when the game is tied, which is often in the first period, the club is dead-last. A similar percentage and ranking occurs when the score is close (teams are within one goal or tied in the third). When the Oilers are trailing in a game, their faceoff win percentage is higher than 51%. And when they're ahead, which hasn't been often, they're at 55%.

Lastly, I looked at the faceoff win percentage at the individual level, focusing on our four main centers this season: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, Anton Lander and Mark Letestu. I included Matt Hendricks in this group since Woodcroft mentioned him as a guy who was relied upon to take faceoffs. Below is each player's faceoff win percentage at different score situations.

Player Score tied Oilers Leading Oilers Trailing All Scores
RNH 38.93% 48.84% 49.02% 45.28%
McDavid 36.32% 38.64% 40.98% 37.94%
Lander 53.42% 47.92% 54.05% 56.00%
Letestu 46.92% 54.17% 52.46% 53.24%
Hendricks 46.30% 50.00% 53.33% 53.95%

Couple things worth noting here.

  • I was very surprised as to how poorly young RNH has done when the score is tied. He's taking on the toughest assignments every night, but he has got to be better than an overall percentage of 45%. Since Woodcroft mentioned his staff is working on faceoffs, and how they need to improve their starts, I'll assume that top line is getting some attention.
  • Letestu has been a nice addition to the roster, but appears to be one of the players that doesn't have great starts. He's doing well overall in faceoffs, but his success occurs when there are already points on the board.
  • Lander is having a tough season so far, but it's his ability to win draws, especially in the defensive zone, that's keeping him in the lineup. When the score is tied, he has the best faceoff percentage, and it's not even close. He's taken on tougher assignments this season and looks to finally have a winger in Jordan Eberle that might help him bust his slump.
Faceoffs are likely more of a concern to the coaching staff as it's much easier to target and remedy. While McLellan talks about "belief" among players and their approach to the game, it's much more constructive to find the flaws on the ice or in the basic performance metrics. Faceoffs are going to be one of the many hints that the team has flaws and should probably be part of a more holistic assessment of the roster.

Curious to hear what others may think is the issue here.