Dallas Stars Must Improve In Faceoff Circle in Close Games

35.8% on shorthanded draws this year.

With the loss to the Sharks last night, the Dallas Stars playoff hopes have taken a sharp down turn. They've now lost three of their last four on this home stand that was supposed to be a reward for a highly successful road trip out West, and in all three of those losses, they had chances in the games final minutes to win or pull more points than they did.

They lost to Calgary in a shootout. They lost to Los Angeles on a goal with 20~ seconds left. They had two VERY late power plays to tie a close one goal game with San Jose last night. When a team is on the wrong side of decisions so close, it's the finest details that can make all the difference in the end.

Details like faceoffs.

The Stars are 15th in the league at 50.4% and conventional thinking is that faceoffs generally will even out over the course of a season. That didn't stop me from fuming in my seat last night as the Sharks took 41 of 68 faceoffs last night from Dallas including a 19 to 7 edge in the second period.

Why was the disparity so great in the second period? As I tweeted last night: "No Ott. No Burish. No faceoff wins." Hyperbole, but the premise is sound. Loui Eriksson had an unfortunate run in with a brick wall named Murray and Steve Ott took himself out of the game for an extended period of time with 17 PIMs, leaving the Stars high and dry on the faceoff dot. All things considered, Krys Barch might have been better suited for that particular task last night.

When Ott was on the ice he a great night going 10-15 on the dot, 65%.

Faceoff numbers don't measure "clutchness", an erroneous and frowned upon concept amongst hockey statisticians. Still, not all draws are created equal and the higher the pressure has been lately it seems the worse the Stars are on the dot.

Consider some of the more forgettable moments of March....

Continued after the jump

  • Two Phoenix goals very late in the game tie and seemingly send it to overtime (Jamie Benn miracles can't be expected to fix every wart as happened that night...) and they were both preceded by faceoff losses.
  • 8 seconds remaining in OT on the PK in Anaheim. Faceoff loss. Game over.
  • Just tied the game against Los Angeles with 42 seconds to go. Lost the ensuing faceoff and lost the game 20 seconds later. Cost them a point or more.
  • Last night they had two late power plays, lost both opening faceoffs.
  • Lost the faceoff on the 5 on 3 last night (though that's always a difficult prospect)

Mike Ribeiro leads the team in faceoffs taken at 1,060 overall, and takes more special teams draws than any other Star despite the percentages not being in his favor.

Brad Richards has a solid 51% on the season but that number has been hurt by his play since returning to the lineup last week. He's 45% on the dot since rejoining the team against Calgary to start the home stand.
 

Player Total Draws EV% PP% SH% Total Faceoff %
Richards 830 52% 46% 30% 51%
Ribeiro 1060 48% 49.6% 35.8% 47.4%
Ott 928 60.5% 55% 54% 58.2%
Burish 470 54.6% 28.6% 48.7% 52.8%

(I could have included Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell but it's just as well I didn't. Wandell had a particularly stinky outing last night going 1/15 on the dot)

There are a hundred coaching reasons to have Mike Ribeiro out there taking these important situational draws every night and I'm not going to pretend to know them.

What I will say is that as a fan of the team it occasionally enters my mind that I sure would like to have Steve Ott out there to take this enormously important power play draw right now because gaining possession of the puck is the most important thing and he gives us the best chance to do that.

I'm not a coach, so that opinion is probably flawed in some way that I'm not smart enough to understand. One way is that Ott's already taken 928 faceoffs this year, nearly as many as Ribeiro. How many more can he feasibly take?

Either way, they need Adam Burish back on the ice, they need Steve Ott to stay on the ice. Every little inch and every little detail is crucial now to a team that probably needs to win seven of it's last twelve games to make it to the dance. If last night was any indication the faceoffs circle will be a big part of that, one way...or the other.

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