Faceoffs take seconds to unfold. A drop of the puck and two centers battle for the loose rubber. Too often during the 2013-14 season, the Flyers came on the losing end of those faceoffs. Going forward, the Flyers faceoff numbers must improve for the team to better its five-on-five play.
The old adage is that a good defense is a good offense. That trend has taken over the NHL during the last few years. Teams who possess the puck more, often come out on the winning end of the game.
When it comes to faceoffs, the Flyers need lots of help.
The Flyers lack of offense at even strength puts a heavier burden on the power play units to produce.
Adam Hall, 33, led the Flyers in faceoff percentage, winning 59.6 percent of his faceoffs. After him, Claude Giroux ranked second with 52.9 percent. Sean Couturier was third, with a 47.8 faceoff percentage. If the Flyers do not bring Hall back, they will need someone to carry the load.
The first, third and fourth lines had permanent centers taking the draws. The constant flux on the second line was a soft spot on the team. Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier kept rotating through, with neither of them making a strong case as the permanent second-line center.
Schenn’s faceoff woes continued from last season. His faceoff percentage dipped from 45.5 percent in 2013 to 43.3 percent. Lecavalier was not much better. He won 44.6 percent of his faceoffs, a ten percent drop from last season.
The shakiness of the second line could also have led to the incompetence of the second power play unit. Lecavalier was -6 on the power play draws. Schenn was -1. Couturier was the only center, other than Giroux, to win more power play faceoffs -+5 – than he lost.
Their lack of effective 5-on-5 play is a result of several factors: zone entries, decision-making with the puck and winning faceoffs.
Puck possession has become one of the pillars to building a successful team. Controlling the puck means controlling the pace of the game, which often means the other team is chasing the play. Large puck possession numbers do not correlate to wins. Teams have to be smart with the puck.
Turnovers are inevitable when a team possesses the puck. The key difference is making sure those giveaways do not end up in the back of the net.
Faceoffs are a small part of a successful formula, but winning in the circles does not guarantee a win. The Nashville Predators led the NHL in faceoff percentage and missed the playoffs. The New York Rangers were 22nd in faceoff percentage and went to the Stanley Cup Final.
If the Flyers want to have a chance at making another playoff run, they will need to improve their five-on-five play. It will be a process, but the first step begins in the faceoff circle.
The Lecavalier-playing-on-the-wing experiment blew up, so Lecavalier should be the second-line center when the season begins. Schenn may play better in the middle of the ice, but he is a faceoff and defensive liability. The Flyers need a stable second-line center and with a full offseason, Lecavalier could have a bounceback year in production and in the faceoff circle.