Brian MacLellan spoke to the media on Friday about every topic under the sun. One of the more interesting perspectives we heard from the general manager was on the subject of faceoffs, at which the Capitals totally stink. With a 46.2 faceoff win percentage, the Caps are dead last in the league. It’s really easy to identity why that is.
It’s Evgeny Kuznetsov. He wins just 38 percent of his faceoffs, worst among any NHL player who has taken at least 400 during 5-on-5 play. (Nate MacKinnon is second worst with 40 percent.)
And Kuznetsov takes a whole bunch of drops; his faceoffs represent nearly a quarter of Washington’s workload during 5-on-5 play. Meanwhile, centers Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller, who take about half of the team’s faceoffs, win exactly half of them.
This is not a new development. Kuznetsov has never been good at faceoffs. Before he joined the NHL, Ian wondered if his weakness at them there might keep him landing at center. Since Kuznetsov joined the league, his win percentage has gotten worse, now floating conspicuously below 40 percent. The team mitigates this weakness by starting Kuznetsov’s line in the offensive zone — far from his team’s net — nearly 60 percent of the time, a phenomenon that last year led to a lot of struggle for faceoff specialist Jay Beagle.
But Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post reports that MacLellan sees no urgent need to acquire a faceoff specialist, and he’s absolutely right.
There are a lot of factors keeping Kuznetsov from being a complete player (e.g. passivity in forechecking, low five-on-five production, problems suppressing opponent shot quality), but faceoffs aren’t one of them. Faceoffs garner attention because they’re discrete and dramatic and one-on-one, often with a clear-cut winner and a loser, but their connection to winning games on a pattern level is tenuous. Just like the also-terrible-at-faceoffs Nate MacKinnon, Kuznetsov can continue to be successful even if he stinks at puck drops.
Washington’s coaches spend a lot of time drilling Kuznetsov on faceoffs during practice, but maybe that effort would be better spent working on board battles and the 1-2-2.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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