A winning formula
Possession. Possession. Possession.
You can't win hockey games if you don't have the puck, and control of the puck starts in the faceoff circle.
With games being so close these days, players realize they have to be better in the circle in order to gain control of the puck, especially if their team is clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third period.
"It's very important to get control of the puck, as you know nowadays in the NHL one goal is a huge difference in the outcome of a hockey game," Tampa Bay Lightning center Tim Taylor said. "Faceoffs, I think, are becoming more and more important in getting your team control right of the bat. Especially with these new sticks, you can't give a guy a good opportunity in the slot off a faceoff or it's going to be in the net.
There's tremendous importance on getting control of the puck right off the draw in hockey games these days with all the one-goal games there are in the League.
"There may be 40 seconds left in the game and you're up a goal and, like I said, things are so tight now in the NHL in each conference that two points is huge and when it comes down to playoff time, it could mean the difference between your team making the playoffs in the year or not making the playoffs."
So faceoffs are one facet of the game that shouldn't be taken lightly.
"I see a lot of players, whether it's the minor leagues or NHL, who are naturally gifted offensively, but they kind of think the faceoffs are just a formality. Kind of 'drop the puck and lets go and if I lose I'll get the puck back.' But it's not the case," Taylor said. "Players have to understand that if you want to be that centerman who's out there during the times in a game when the game is on the line and you're not very good on your faceoffs, you're not going to be the guy that's going to be out there."
"They're huge," said San Jose's Wayne Primeau said. "When you win faceoffs that's puck possession and the more faceoffs you win the more you'll be able to control the puck and the game. Obviously the offensive faceoffs, if you win those you're going to get the opportunity to maybe get some shots from the point and maybe pick up some rebounds or maybe get some deflections and some screens going and create more scoring chances.
"Whether it's in the offensive zone to create scoring chances or in the defensive zone to keep the puck away from them so they don't get their scoring chances. Nowadays it's very important to get the upper hand in the faceoff circle in order to give your team a chance to win, whether you're trying to create a scoring chance or prevent one."
Players realize that each faceoff is one of the important battles that have to be won throughout the course of an NHL game. The forwards have to be on top of their game every time they put their stick down. So, whether you're a seasoned veteran like Damphousse or an 18-year old pivot like Florida's Nathan Horton, you're expected to get your team possession every time you line up to take a draw.
"As a rookie you can't think about who you're up against," Horton said. "Obviously all these guys are going to be way more experienced than us, but we still have to get in there and fight for the puck and hopefully win the battle. Faceoffs are key because when you win them you gain possession of the puck for your team, which is always important no matter where you are on the ice."