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The Art Of The Draw

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
It can be one of the most important aspects of the game, yet it’s often overlooked on the final stat sheet. Despite having its importance generally understated, the ability to win faceoffs – and to win them in important situations – can ultimately be a deciding factor in close games.

Faceoffs most often come to light in crucial situations, whether they occur while leading by a goal late in your defensive zone, or when trailing by a goal in the closing seconds in the offensive end. Those circumstances aside, the ability to gain initial possession of the puck is important throughout the course of the game.

The disparity between top faceoff teams and those at the bottom of the rankings is relatively small. Through Saturday’s games, 22 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League had won between 48 and 52 percent of their faceoffs.

The Avalanche has had some troubles in the circle this season, winning only 46.5 percent of its draws, but it’s an area that has been steadily improving. During the club’s recent three-game road trip through Western Canada, Colorado had a better faceoff percentage than its opponent in two of the three games and lost the third by a slim margin (28-to-29). Overall, the Avalanche won 57.4% of its draws on the trip
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Rookie center Matt Duchene has been particularly good lately, winning 25 of his 35 faceoffs (71.4%) over the past three contests after struggling a bit early in the year.

“I found that in juniors guys would do the same thing a lot of the time. Most of the time I could outsmart them or outthink them,” said Duchene. “But here, if I beat a guy one way he’ll do something completely different the next time. I find that you just have to be as strong and as fast as you can.”

Fellow center Ryan O’Reilly has won 51.4% of his faceoffs (19-of-37) over the past three games. Although he’s a rookie by NHL standards, he’s no stranger to experiencing success in the circle. Following the 2008-09 campaign, he finished second in the “Best on Faceoffs” category in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference Coaches Poll.

“It’s different in the NHL every time you approach the circle,” said the former Erie Otter center. “Here you don’t always know what your opponent’s strength is. I think now I’ve been figuring it out a bit and that does help. But the main thing is you don’t want to lose the draw clean. You have to tie them up first and then you have to win the puck.”

O’Reilly has often been called upon by Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco to take important draws late in games.

“They’ve given me some shots at big draws. Sometimes you’re hot and sometimes you’re not,” said O’Reilly. “The coaches know what they’re doing. They try to put the right guys in the right situations. Whoever is hot at the time is taking the draws.”

Sunday’s Practice Notes:
Duchene centered a line of Marek Svatos and Milan Hejduk during Sunday morning’s skate, while O’Reilly had Cody McLeod and Darcy Tucker on his wings.

Captain Adam Foote (jaw) did not skate today and is doubtful for Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Craig Anderson will start in goal on Monday.
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