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The Oilers' Issue with Faceoffs II

A follow up to a post from November when the Oilers were posting some odd faceoff stats.

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Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Something that's been  of interest to me has been faceoffs and some of the odd numbers the Oilers have been posting this season.

In November when the Oilers had that poor start, an area that the coaching staff wanted to improve on was faceoffs.  I'm of the sense that faceoffs are important, but tend to be overvalued as there are other events in a game that have a greater impact on scoring and possession that aren't tracked. Regardless, since the coaching staff has talked about faceoffs throughout the season, and how much the team has been working on them,  I thought it would be worth looking at the latest numbers.

Here's what I wrote back in November, which includes some of the comments from assistant coach Jay Woodcroft:

The Oilers' Issue with Faceoffs (2015, November 12)

The Oilers are currently 24th in the league when it comes to faceoff wins with 49.2% at even-strength, only ahead of Columbus, Calgary, Florida, New Jersey, Winnipeg and Vancouver. When we break it out by period, the Oilers, for whatever reason, are near the bottom of the league in the first period, but near the top of the league in the third period. As we see below, this hasn't changed since I last checked in November (Souce: War on Ice).

(as of Nov. 12, 2015)
(as of Jan. 26, 2016)
1st period 42.5% (30th) 46.7% (27th)
2nd period 47.9% (19th) 48.6% (23rd)
3rd period 56.4% (1st) 52.5% (3rd)
Overall 48.9% (23rd) 49.2% (24th)

The Oilers go from a 46.7% team in the first period to a 52.5% team in the third, which is odd considering that on average a team's percentage change between the first and third is about 1.66%. The Oilers are on the absolute extreme, with other clubs often remaining within a reasonable range between the first and third periods.

I also looked at how the Oilers have done in different game states. Below are the faceoff win percentages at even-strength in November to now.

(as of Nov. 12, 2015)
(as of Jan. 26, 2016)
Score Tied 44.2% (30th) 47.0% (28th)
Oilers Trailing 51.7% (16th) 48.6% (24th)
Oilers Leading 55.8% (2nd) 53.6% (2nd)
All Scores 48.9% (23rd) 49.2% (24th)

Looks like the Oilers are still terrible when the score is tied, but are much better when they're leading. For whatever reason, the Oilers winning percentage has dropped when they are trailing in a game.

Finally, I looked at how each of the centermen have done at different score states this season.

As of November 12, 2015

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%

As of January 26, 2016

RNH 37.59% 55.56% 43.96% 43.93%
McDavid 36.36% 38.64% 40.91% 37.97%
Lander 53.80% 54.10% 50.00% 53.68%
Letestu 47.80% 49.18% 53.18% 50.87%
Hendricks 59.80% 60.00% 75.00% 63.30%
Draisaitl 49.73% 47.17% 46.03% 47.39%

Couple things worth noting:

  • Young Leon isn't in the first table as he was called up at the end of October and hadn't taken many faceoffs at that point. He's done very well in his first full season as a center, and I expect his faceoff percentage to improve with experience.
  • RNH is still struggling to win faceoffs overall, but does a lot better now when the team is leading. I suspect that he hadn't been 100% healthy leading up to his hand injury, and had seen his ice time drop over the course of the season.
  • Lander continues to win over 53% of his faceoffs at even-strength. I'm thinking this might be the only reason he's still with the Oilers at this point. Hopefully he can start producing some points to go along with his faceoff proficiency.
  • Letestu has taken a bit of a hit overall when it comes to faceoff wins, but he's the only player that does better when the team is trailing. This might be why he's seeing an increase in ice-time and out there when the team needs a goal.
  • Hendricks has probably been the most effective utility player on the team, switching from wing to center as needed. He hasn't taken nearly as many draws as the others, but with Kassian taking his spot on Letestu's wing, and with RNH out of the lineup, I would expect Hendricks to take a lot more draws going forward.
Overall it doesn't appear that the team has improved when it comes to winning faceoffs, which is something that Woodcroft wanted to work on earlier in the season. Winning draws obviously has to do with the personnel on the ice, but there's definitely some technique work that the club might need to focus on. Again, faceoffs are only one of the many aspects that determine team possession, so it shouldn't be overvalued and focused on when constructing a roster. The only thing that interests me here is the discrepancy between the faceoff percentage in the first period compared to the third, as well as how individual players do in different score states. I'd be curious to hear why others think the faceoff numbers have been so weird this season, and if there might be other indicators worth looking into.