There are lots of reasons why Evgeny Kuznetsov is a good hockey player. He’s deviously creative in the offensive zone, he makes sublime passes, he goes to unlikely places to make plays, and he’s increasingly hard to push off the puck. He is what the kids call on Facebook call jokes.
But when it comes to faceoffs, Kuzy is real bad.
Kuznetsov has won 44 of his 112 faceoffs during 5-on-5 play so far this season, a dreary 39.3 percent. Of the forwards who have seen at least 50 faceoffs this season (n = 61), Kuznetsov is ranked third from last, ahead of only Nate MacKinnon and Alex Wennberg.
The 39.3 percent is the lowest of Kuznetsov’s career – and we should expect him to creep towards 50 as the season goes on – but it’s clear by now that he is weak on the dot. Going back to 2014-15, of the forwards who have taken at least 800 faceoffs, Kuznetsov ranks 121st out of 141.
Still: he’s ahead of Connor McDavid (42.3 percent) and Evgeni Malkin (42.6 percent), which I think underlines the limit of being a good faceoff specialist. Though retrospectively one individual faceoff might mean the difference between a win and a loss, overall, collectively, faceoffs just don’t matter that much.
Which is maybe good news for Kuznetsov. Despite having practiced with Jay Beagle (who has won 57 percent of his faceoffs over the last four seasons, good for him, that’s nice), the Russian-born center seems to be getting worse at them.
One wonders if there’s a cumulative effect though. If Kuznetsov’s career 45 percent on the dot means he will lose one additional faceoff out of every twenty compared to an “average” (50 percent) center, what is the cost? Is it extra goals in the Caps’ net? Is it the foregone opportunity of scoring chances? (Probably not – or at least not many of either.) Is it the coach opting for a more conservative deployment strategy in pivotal moments like 3-on-3 overtime? There’s a stronger case to be made there. With the Capitals entering lean days, they should look for any edge they can get. Winning some more faceoffs couldn’t hurt.
Photo: Chris Gordon
Data from Corsica.hockey as of the afternoon of Wednesday, October 25.
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