BOSTON — Rod Brind'Amour was long considered one of the best faceoff men in the NHL.
Brind'Amour was all intensity in the circle, eyes wide, smart and strong, his stick poised to attack the puck. Opposing centers usually dreaded the draw when he was on the other side for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Now a Carolina assistant coach, one of Brind'Amour's duties is to help make the Canes' centers more effective on faceoffs. The Canes, 29th in the NHL last season, are a more respectable 21st after five games this season, lifting their percentage of winning draws from 44.6 percent to 48.3 percent.
"It's more working on little things, not major things," Brind'Amour said Monday. "And it's gradual. You can't turn it around overnight. It's just been five games."
While still a small sample, Brandon Sutter's faceoff numbers are eye-opening. Through Sunday's games, the center was eighth in the NHL at 61.7 percent.
Early last season, Sutter struggled in the circle. In the second game, he lost 18 of 19 draws. In other early games he was 3-11 and 2-12 on faceoffs. Better as the season wore on, he finished 82nd in the league at 44.3 percent.
"It's obviously something I wanted to work to get better at," Sutter said.
Sutter got tips from Ron Francis, the hall of famer who was associate head coach the past two years and was a faceoff master in his playing days. Now, it's Brind'Amour, who has had video sessions with the players but also done some hands-on, on-ice work after practice.
"I've learned a lot," Sutter said. "Ronnie (Francis) has got a few more tricks. With Roddy (Brind'Amour), it's more bear down, get in there and use your strength.
"The more strength you have over the puck, the better. And the closer you can get in the circle and use your strength, the better. It helps to get a little stronger, a little bigger - just being stronger on your stick and working on your timing."
Brind'Amour smiled when told Sutter, still lean at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 183 pounds at age 22, used the "bigger, stronger" phrase in talking about his improvement.
"I don't know how much stronger he got over last season, but if he feels that way ... Even if you aren't, if you feel that way, there's the mental edge, too," Brind'Amour said. "He's got more confidence, is more positive.
"He's bearing down. He's taking every one like it's his last one. And he's getting more experience, which is a big thing."
Last season, the Canes won 2,192 draws and lost 2,721. That's 529 possessions that went to the other team, and another factor in the Canes being last in the league in shots against.
The Hurricanes acquired former Toronto Maple Leafs' center Tim Brent, in part, to help with the draws. Brent won 52 percent of his faceoffs last season.
"I read a stat when I was younger and never forgot it, that if you win every faceoff in a game your puck possession goes up by almost six minutes," Brent said. "That's a lot of time to have the puck. That's something I've always used to make sure I'm ready to go on faceoffs."
The Canes edged the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Friday when Jeff Skinner scored a power-play goal with 1:24 left in regulation. But the possession began with center Eric Staal winning a draw against Paul Gaustad.
The Boston Bruins, who host the Canes tonight at TD Garden, have one of the NHL's best faceoff men in Patrice Bergeron (62.9 percent) and are fourth this season in faceoff percentage (54.6).
If it's a tight game, as it was last week when Carolina won 3-2 at the RBC Center, it could be decided in the circle.
"You notice in a game, you get a shift in your zone, then you go for a faceoff and you end up losing the draw, you might spend 30 or 35 more seconds in your zone," Sutter said. "If you win it, you might get down the ice and get a chance to score.
"It's obviously a big part of the game."
Note: The Canes on Monday recalled forward Brett Sutter from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.
Sutter was called up on an emergency basis to replace Zac Dalpe, who was injured Friday against the Sabres and is listed as "week-to-week" with a lower-body injury.