Jordan Staal beat Sidney Crosby on the opening faceoff Sunday as Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes faced the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For Staal, it was the first of 15 winning draws on 20 faceoffs as the Canes finished 40-22 in the circle against the Pens. Not that it mattered. The Pens won 5-0 at Consol Energy Center in an otherwise forgettable game for the Canes.
But in a season with various ups and downs, one constant for the Hurricanes has been their ability to win faceoffs, an important ingredient in a system based so much on puck possession. Before Tuesday’s games, Carolina led the NHL in faceoff percentage at 53.7, just ahead of the Arizona Coyotes (53.6).
Nor is it a one-year anomaly. The Canes were third in the NHL last season at 53 percent – the Boston Bruins were No. 1 at 53.6 – and fourth in 2013-14 at 52.6.
Why so good? Center Jay McClement grinned Monday when asked that question.
“We’ve got Rod Brind’Amour as a faceoff coach,” he said.
Everyone has their own strategy and as a team we do a lot of different things on faceoffs.
Canes center Victor Rask
Brind’Amour, a Canes assistant coach, once ruled the circle as a player and annually was one of the NHL’s best. Brind’Amour, a former Canes captain, has a few tricks of the trade that he relates only to the players.
“More than anything he reminds us to bear down on every draw,” McClement said. “He reminds us that even if we were 75 percent the game before, it’s a clean slate and we have to do it every night. As group we’ve been pretty solid. The wingers also have been really good at helping out on the 50-50 pucks.”
The wingers also have been called on at times to take draws. Elias Lindholm is the right wing on Eric Staal’s line and has won 50.4 percent of his 254 faceoffs when called on.
Jordan Staal is winning 58.3 percent of his draws this season, third-best in the NHL. Eric Staal is at 56 percent (17th), McClement at 55.2 (22nd) and center Victor Rask 51.3 percent (47th).
“Everyone has their own strategy and as a team we do a lot of different things on faceoffs,” Rask said, without getting into specifics.
There has been a rules change on faceoffs in the NHL this season – dubbed the “Ron Francis Rule.” The Carolina general manager proposed last spring that the offensive player put his stick down second in the offensive zone with the intent of increasing puck possession time, producing more offense and hopefully more goal scoring in a league that can use it.
In the past, the visiting team’s player put his stick down on the ice first on draws, regardless of the zone. Under the new rule, which was approved by the NHL and NHL Players Association, the player taking a draw closest to his own net puts his stick down first. The visiting player, as in the past, goes down first for center- ice draws.
“I think it’s a great rule and there is an impact for sure,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Monday. “I think it’s a rule that’s going to stay and it’s going to help the league.”
Peters, like McClement, credited the Canes’ wingers with helping fight for loose pucks off draws while noting the Canes’ centers all are proficient in the circle.
“It definitely has made things more difficult on the road,” Jordan Staal said. “You see a lot of guys now with their overall faceoff percentage better at home, than previously.”
Staal likes to use his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame and strength to his advantage. Rask at times will tie up the opposing player’s stick, then kick the puck to a teammate. Whatever works.
Staal has won 426 draws and lost 305 this season. That’s 121 more possessions for the Canes in 47 games.
“There’s definitely an art to it,” Jordan Staal said. “You find your niche, your own way to get wins. It’s big. We’re a team that likes to have the puck.”