The defending champion Washington Capitals are .500 (2-2-1) early this season. Tuesday, head coach Todd Reirden had his team focus on their flaws.
During practice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex (which included a fire alarm), the players practiced their skill at faceoffs. According to puckbase.com, the Caps are the second worst team in the NHL at winning draws (43.8 percent). First-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov is a team-worst 35.8 percent , which is why the following happened.
Caps are practicing faceoffs at the end of practice and having some fun with it. Kuznetsov won one, and he, Stephenson and Ovechkin started celebrating. Orpik won a couple, which got some cheers from the group.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) October 16, 2018
Yes, Kuzy got cheers from Alex Ovechkin and Chandler Stephenson for actually winning a faceoff. That’s how bad it’s gotten.
They practiced in units of five, including defensemen and wingers instead of just the centers taking the draw.
Capitals spent the last part of today's practice working on faceoffs as a team — not just centers, but as 5-man units. They also watched video on it before practice and the importance of the wingers and sometimes even the D helping out.
Caps rank 30th in NHL at 43.8% on draws.
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) October 16, 2018
Kuznetsov, who has nine points (4g, 5a) in his first five games, is in the top 15 of league scoring and is already having his name bandied about as a possible Art Ross winner. He’s also flexing his muscles on the penalty kill this season, showing off his skill defensively. But every Superman has his kryptonite and for Kuzy, it’s faceoffs.
Kuznetsov is a career 44.2 percent in the dot. This season, at five-on-five, Kuzy has lost 50 of his first 75 faceoffs (33.3 percent). During last year’s championship run, he won only 38.2 percent of his draws. The stats say Kuzy’s losing more as he’s gotten older and faced better competition. But it’s not for a lack of trying.
“He’s progressed a lot,” Jay Beagle, one of the best faceoff men in the NHL, said to RMNB in January 2015. “The kid has a lot of work ethic. That’s the main thing: you gotta work real hard coming into this league and he has that, which is great. It’s easy to work with him.”
“We all pick each other’s brains, all centermen,” he continued. “We always like to see what’s going on, even throughout the game. If you’ve had a couple against a guy and I’m going up against him, I want to talk to someone and see what his tendencies are. … It’s all about reading the other guy. It’s all about adjustments. It’s almost like a chess match. It’s a lot more complicated than a lot of people would think.”
The good thing for the Capitals is that while Kuzy is a liability in the dot, the impact is mostly minimal, as Peter Hassett wrote in October 2017.
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.
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk
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