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By the numbers: Faceoff follies could spell difference tonight

Mikhail Grigorenko has been a surprise in the faceoff circle. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

BOSTON -- The Sabres have to be quicker on the draw. That's become plainly obvious this season. But it could really be a major issue tonight.

Buffalo enters the game last in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 42 percent -- and the Boston Bruins are No. 1 at 60.7 percent. There's been plenty of chatter on Twitter in recent days over how significant the Sabres' troubles in the circle really are. I say it's one key problem to the season (although I would list lack of secondary scoring and poor play along the blueline as bigger trouble spots).

(*I acknowledge a decent argument can be made that six games is a small sample size, although I remind you it's already 12.5 percent of the season. And it also can be pointed out that the numbers might even out a little bit as well because 42 percent is historically bad; the last-place team in the league has never been under 44 percent since 1998.).

Let's start by comparing the two teams' numbers. The NHL lists faceoffs in wins-losses format so a team or player that's, say, 20-25 has won 20 and lost 25 and is NOT 20 OUT OF 25 (Going 20-25 essentially means 20 of 45).

Overall 219-142 (60.7 percent)
Home 145-99 (59.4)
Road 74-43 (63.2)
Even strength 166-104 (61.5)
Power play 26-12 (68.4)
Penalty kill 27-26 (50.9)

Key players
Rich Peverly 33-16 (67.3)
Patrice Bergeron 76-40 (65.5)
Chris Kelly 40-25 (61.5)
David Krejci 46-34 (57.5)

Overall 155-214 (42.0)
Home 92-105 (46.7)
Road 63-109 (36.6)
Even strength 129-162 (44.3)
Power play 18-16 (52.9)
Penalty kill 8-36 (18.1---YIKES!!)

Key players
Steve Ott 30-18 (62.5)
Mikhail Grigorenko 17-24 (41.5)
Tyler Ennis 28-43 (39.4)
Cody Hodgson 44-72 (37.9)
Jochen Hecht 17-35 (32.7)

Lots of folks (correctly I may add) have said to me they don't care about the brute numbers, that the faceoffs only really matter in the defensive zone. I don't agree as Tyler Ennis lost a faceoff at center ice last week at Carolina and it resulted in a second goal in nine seconds. But even assuming that theory to be true, the Sabres don't measure up.

Here's how the Sabres break down in faceoffs in the offensive, defensive and neutral zones:

Player          Offensive         Defensive        Neutral
Ott                16-6                 8-8                 6-4
Hodgson         16-22               14-27              14-23
Ennis               8-13                 8-8                12-22
Hecht              1-6                   8-22                8-12
Grigorenko       6-10                 4-4                  7-10
Others             7-8                   4-7                  8-7
Totals             54-65               46-76               55-78 

I realize you can twist numbers any way you want, but there's no way you're winning many hockey games when you can't even win 38 percent of the draws in your own zone. Just off the top of my head, I can come up with three goals (at Toronto, the game-winner at home vs. Carolina and the Leafs' third goal Tuesday) that came directly off such losses. There might be more

Yes, there are secondary issues after the puck is dropped (Thomas Vanek taking a long route to the point on the Carolina goal by Jay Harrison, for instance). Sometimes a goaltender flubs a save like Ryan Miller did when Grigorenko lost a draw and Cody Franson scored Tuesday. But ultimately, you don't succeed if you're spending an inordinate amount of time chasing the puck trying to get it back.

"It's not just dropping the puck and hoping to win it," Ott told me today in TD Garden. "It took a lot of years to be good at, be successful in the dot. That's where our young center men keep working on it to be successful every day. That's where you get your percentages. You find out guys strengths, learn your own strengths.

"The faceoff battle, winning the dot, is key. We have a strong task ahead of us. We need to find a way to be more successful to start with pucks rather than chasing it and burning 15 seconds after every draw. It's grabbing confidence. You learn your technique and hope to learn something that works against righties, works against lefties and makes you successful."

"There's skill and technique in it but like a lot of aspects of the game, when you're feeling good and timing is on and you win a few in the circle, you feel good," said Boston's Kelly. "When you lose a few, it snowballs and can get in your head. Get an early point, early good shifts and you feel good the rest of the night. Same in the circle."

My thoughts from studying the numbers:

1). The Sabres need to use Ott in the circle a lot, like they said they were going to in the offseason. He won all nine of his offensive zone draws the first four games, struggled to a 1-8 overall mark in Washington and then roared back Tuesday to go 16-3 against the Leafs.

2). They need to consider Jason Pominville more when the top line is on the ice in place of Hodgson, especially in their own end.

3). Anyone think Grigorenko is their second-best faceoff man? Wonder if in any small way that helped their decision to keep him.

4). Hecht as a good faceoff guy is a myth. Going 8-22 in your own end is a joke and look at the Sabres' numbers when they're short-handed. Just 18 percent? 

Be sure to follow our live blog tonight. I'll keep you updated on the numbers in the circle. 


Boston Bruins | Cody Hodgson | Jochen Hecht | Mikhail Grigorenko | Statistics | Steve Ott | Tyler Ennis
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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl |

About Sabres Edge

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |