Can the Nashville Predators' tradition of faceoff specialists help the power play?

One of the hallmarks of Nashville Predators teams in recent years has been the presence of some of the game's best faceoff specialists, going back through Scott Nichol, Radek BonkYanic Perrault, and Mike Sillinger. It's an area of hockey at which a low-budget team can reasonably aim to excel, as opposed to snagging a 50-goal scorer on the open market, and the latest in this line of faceoff studs is veteran plugger Jerred Smithson.

In his article this morning on the Preds' faceoff performance so far, David Boclair gave us this quote from Barry Trotz:

"People don't put enough value in the faceoffs," Trotz said. "Everything offensively starts with the faceoff. Everything defensively starts with the faceoff. If you don't win the faceoff, you're defending.    

Particularly when it comes to faceoffs in either end of the ice, that's definitely true. Neutral zone draws don't influence shots for & against anywhere near as much as others. Lose a faceoff in your own end at even strength, and it leads to the equivalent of a 10-15 second power play for your opponent. But how does this insight affect our view of the Preds?

Follow after the jump for a detailed look at how the main men on the faceoff dot are performing for Nashville...

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First, let's take a team-wide view broken down by the zone in which the faceoff occurs, and the situation (power play, even strength, shorthanded). Recall that in general, teams on the power play win 55% of draws, so shorthanded teams win 45%:

Nashville Predators team faceoff totals as of 10/31/2010

 Offensive   Neutral   Defensive   Total 
 PP 27 - 51 7 - 13 2 - 3 36 - 67
52.9% 53.8% 66.7% 53.7%
 EV  68 - 136 70 - 149 89 - 159 227 - 444
50.0% 47.0% 56.0% 51.1%
 SH 2 - 3 5 - 12 26 - 60 33 - 75
66.7% 41.7% 43.3% 44.0%
 Total  97 - 190 82 - 174 117 - 222 296 - 586
51.1% 47.1% 52.7% 50.5%

Now in general, that's not too bad; the overall PP and SH numbers are within one faceoff win of league averages, and the even-strength results are slightly above norm, but not significantly so. The question, however, is whether the Preds might be able to improve on these numbers and try to establish some sort of advantage when it comes to faceoffs. For that question, let's look at some of the individuals involved (in order of FO's taken):


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Cal O`Reilly

#16 / Center / Nashville Predators

6-0

187

Sep 30, 1986



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2010 - Cal O`Reilly 10 1 6 7 0 0 0 0 1 11
 Offensive   Neutral   Defensive   Total 
 PP  15 - 27 3 - 6 1 - 1 19 - 34
55.6% 50.0% 100.0% 55.9%
 EV  27 - 44 13 - 38 20 - 37 60 - 119
61.4% 34.2% 54.1% 50.4%
 SH  0 - 0 0 - 1 1 - 2 1 - 3
0.0% 0.0% 50.0% 33.3%
 Total  42 - 71 16 - 45 22 - 40 80 - 156
59.2% 35.6% 55.0% 51.3%

Solid numbers here from Cal, who has basically received a battlefield promotion into the top offensive center's role. Hidden in here are stronger results in both the offensive & defensive zones as opposed to center ice.


Jerred Smithson

#25 / Left Wing / Nashville Predators

6-3

206

Feb 04, 1979



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2010 - Jerred Smithson 10 0 1 1 -1 2 0 0 0 13

 Offensive   Neutral   Defensive   Total 
 PP  0 - 0 0 - 0 0 - 0 0 - 0
0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
 EV  8 - 12 15 - 22 31 - 47 54 - 81
66.7% 68.2% 66.0% 66.7%
 SH  1 - 1 2 - 3 12 - 24 15 - 28
100.0% 66.7% 50.0% 53.6%
 Total  9 - 13 17 - 25 43 - 71 69 - 109
69.2% 68.0% 60.6% 63.3%

As noted this morning, Smitty is the maestro of the faceoff dot for the Predators, and currently stands 3rd on the NHL's conventional list of faceoff leaders at 63.3%, even without taking a single power play draw.


David Legwand

#11 / Center / Nashville Predators

6-2

204

Aug 17, 1980



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2010 - David Legwand 10 2 3 5 -2 8 0 0 0 20

 Offensive   Neutral   Defensive   Total 
 PP  2 - 5 3 - 3 0 - 0 5 - 8
40.0% 100.0% 0.0% 62.5%
 EV  4 - 16 17 - 39 9 - 24 30 - 79
25.0% 43.6% 37.5% 38.0%
 SH 1 - 1 0 - 2 2 - 11 3 - 14
100.0% 0.0% 18.2% 21.4%
 Total  7 - 22 20 - 44 11 - 35 38 - 101
31.8% 45.5% 31.4% 37.6%

Yikes, this isn't good no matter how you slice it.


Colin Wilson

#33 / Center / Nashville Predators

6-1

214

Oct 20, 1989



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2010 - Colin Wilson 10 2 3 5 5 0 0 0 1 15

 Offensive   Neutral   Defensive   Total 
 PP  2 - 4 0 - 1 0 - 1 2 - 6
50.0% 0.0% 0.0% 33.3%
 EV 9 - 26 11 - 18 5 - 9 25 - 53
34.6% 61.1% 55.6% 47.2%
 SH 0 - 0 0 - 0 0 - 0 0 - 0
0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
 Total  11 - 30 11 - 19 5 - 10 27 - 59
36.7% 57.9% 50.0% 45.8%

With only 59 faceoffs taken, it's perhaps a little early to get concerned, but the early results aren't good for Colin, either.

A Smithsonian recommendation

So here's my question - why is it that coaches place such strong emphasis on the defensive side of winning faceoffs, putting their best guys out there for defensive-zone and shorthanded draws, but they don't place a similar weight on the power play? Look at Smithson's results, and you'll see not a single PP faceoff, and almost a 4-to-1 ratio of defensive to offensive zone draws.

Especially during the 2nd period when the offensive zone is closer to the team's bench, it would seem to make sense to put a guy like Smithson out there to take a PP faceoff and help get the Preds on the attack, then switch off quickly for an offensive specialist. I would suggest that those 10-15 seconds of advantage from the marginal faceoff wins that Smitty could provide are worth far more than any relative lack of offensive skill that he would provide until coming off for a player like Steve Sullivan or Colin Wilson.

For a team that has struggled in recent years to get its power play rolling, perhaps it's time to consider some new ideas, and putting your least offensively-productive forward on the PP would certainly qualify.

UPDATE: Now that Marcel Goc has returned from injury, he'd make another fine option as well to increase Nashville's power play faceoff work, and he provides a little more offensive punch, too.

The Preds don't play at home again until Saturday, November 13 vs. the Chicago Blackhawks, but you can plan ahead and use the OtF discount to save money on Nashville Predators tickets for this, or any other home game. Heck, you can even get an early start on your holiday gift-shopping and get some Preds tickets for stocking-stuffers!

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