Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Face-off Failure

Here's something I meant to touch on earlier: the Flyers' face-off woes. Right now, the Flyers have exactly one center that has played in more than half of the Flyers' games thus far with a face-off winning percentage above 50 percent, and that is Mike Richards at 51.8%—not exactly overwhelming.

Now, recent call-up Darroll Powe, who scored his first NHL goal last night, is at 55% in 6 games, but he hasn't exactly had a big enough sample size to judge him yet. The other Flyer centers have been terrible. Glen Metropolit sits at 48.8%, Jeff Carter at 46.6 and Danny Briere at 44.1. That's pretty awful.

By comparison, former Flyer Rod Brind'Amour leads the NHL with a 63.1 percentage. The Flyers don't have anyone in the top 30. In fact, Richards is sitting at 35, the best for Philadelphia. That's just not going to cut it.

Face-offs are a vital component to the game. In the defensive zone, they're ever important to limiting the opposition's scoring chances. In the offensive zone, they're key to setting up scoring opportunities. And they are most important in close hockey games, when the littlest of things can make a difference.

As I was growing up and becoming an avid hockey fan, the Flyers were a dominant face-off team during the Lindros era. Eric Lindros, Rod Brind'Amour and Joel Otto were three of the very best face-off men in the league.

Those Flyers teams were dominant, even got to a Stanley Cup together, because they worked hard, had talent, and controlled the game by winning face-offs. And over the years, the Flyers have always had a reliable face-off guy or two. Mike Sillinger, who returned to Philadelphia with the Islanders last night, was one of them. Keith Primeau was another.

Primeau, brought to Philadelphia in a trade for Rod Brind'Amour, was on the ice for every third period face-off when the Flyers made their run to the Eastern Conference Finals under Ken Hitchcock. When they really, really needed a win, they knew, the fans knew, everybody knew, Primeau would get that face-off more times than not.

But since Primeau was forced to retire due to concussion problems, the Flyers really haven't had that guy. They certainly didn't last season, and they sure as shit don't this year. And that is a major flaw for this team. Even last night, locked in a tight game with a last place team, the Flyers struggled winning big draws in the third. Richards struggled the most, failing to come up with the puck on numerous defensive zone draws.

It's frustrating to watch. For a team with so much talent and a defense that gets steadier and tougher every night, the lack of a face-off presence could be their undoing. That's what makes a guy like Mats Sundin so attractive. Certainly, Sundin would come at a high price, force someone to be moved. But the guy is an excellent player who just so happens to also be awesome at winning face-offs.

Now, I'm not so naive as to think Sundin is a guy the Flyers can necessarily get. He's expensive, old and the Flyers are right up against the cap. But the Flyers have to go out and find a guy that can win them face-offs. Someone reliable, tenacious and accountable come playoff time, especially in the third period of games. They need another Keith Primeau, another Rod Brind'Amour or Joel Otto or Eric Lindros. At least in the face-off circle. Because as much as the likes of Carter, Richards and Briere give you on the ice, they're lacking in the circle. And sometimes, that's all the difference in winning and losing.

1 comment:

  1. i hear what ur saying the Flyers can't win faceoffs and the Rangers can't score goals. The answer to your problem is Yanic Perreault. He has always been a top 5 faceoff guy in the league and is still a free agent so it won't cost you anything in a trade. While he is 37 years old he'll still win you alot of situational faceoffs and you can put him on the 3rd line so he won't eat up big ice time in 5 on 5 play. Since they are right up against the cap the way to fix that is send Alberts to the minors he's not really gonna amount much anyway, along with moving one more guy maybe like either Knuble or Metropolit to free up some more cash.