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Jackets' face-off success is part personnel, part technique

by Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets
Much like the past four seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in the NHL's top 10 in face-off win percentage. They have three players in the top 61 face-off leaders--a feat that few other teams can boast as well. Despite finishing in the bottom half of the league every season during that four year span, why are the Blue Jackets winning so many face-offs, and winning them so regularly?

"We make sure that we have the right personnel and the right guys here to win draws," head coach Todd Richards said to "We do put an emphasis on face-offs, but it's more of an individual skill and it's about the guys taking pride in that role."

Who are the guys that Richards refers to as face-off specialists? Let's take a look at who they are, what their face-off statistics are so far for this season and why they're some of the best in the league.

Ryan Johansen
offensive zone defensive zone neutral zone Totals
Home 52/95 = 54.73% 49/81 = 60.49% 48/99 = 48.48% 149/275 = 54.18%
away 45/89 = 50.56% 54/110 = 49.09% 51/105 = 55.24% 157/304 = 51.64%
totals 97/184 = 52.72% 103/191 = 53.93% 106/204 = 51.96% 306/579 = 52.85%

He may only be in his third NHL season, but Ryan Johansen is quickly establishing himself as one of the top face-off men in the league. Through 35 games this season, he has attempted 579 face-offs for a total faceoff win percentage of 52.85--31st overall. He's attempted the most face-offs on the Blue Jackets and subsequently has won the most face-offs for the team (306).

Looking at the numbers above, it's clear to see that Johansen feels most comfortable taking draws at Nationwide Arena. "You're able to be the last guy to get into position on home ice, so that's a huge advantage," said Johansen.

Johansen also enjoys the added pressure of taking face-offs in the defensive zone. "I absolutely do not want to give them possession in their zone because that leads to pucks in the net," said Johansen. "I try a little harder in those situations because if you win and get it out, then it leads to a chance from your own team and it's one less time you have to chase the other team down."

While he uses his size, strength and power to his advantage, Johansen also credits the time he takes to perfect his skill, as well as his teammates, who push him daily in practice. Having that tough competition day in and day out has led to impressive numbers for Johansen on special teams, too, including winning 60.8 percent of face-offs on the power play (39-of-65) and 65.23 percent (15-of-23) in four-on-four situations.

Brandon Dubinsky
offensive zone defensive zone neutral zone totals
home 44/86 = 51.16% 48/87 = 55.17% 42/67 = 62.69% 134/240 = 55.83%
away 33/57 = 57.89% 28/49 = 57.14% 29/55 = 52.73% 90/161 = 55.90%
totals 77/143 = 53.85% 76/136 = 55.88% 71/122 = 58.20% 224/401 = 55.86%

Dubinsky has established himself as one of the premier face-off guys in the NHL through eight seasons and is someone most opposing players do not look forward to facing in the circle. He uses his physical strength and is not afraid to do whatever it takes to battle for the puck, including when he works on draws in practice against his teammates.

When asked why he thought his neutral zone draw numbers were higher than other situations, Dubinsky said it all comes down to pride.

"Other guys let down more in the neutral zone because it's not as important as winning in the offensive and defensive zones, but possession is always at stake with every draw," said Dubinsky. "Maybe I just take those draws more seriously than some of the other guys on other teams."

Dubinsky is also the Blue Jacket that Richards calls upon in key face-off situations, and he has stepped up to the plate every time. He has won over 60 percent of his face-off attempts in the final minute of games this season and during special teams situations in the final five minutes of the third period.

"It's nice to be the guy trusted to take the draw in tough situations like when you're down a goal or preserving the team's lead in the final minute," said Dubinsky. "For me, it's the important situations that are the most fun opportunities to take face-offs in."

Artem Anisimov
offensive zone defensive zone neutral zone totals
home 36/67 = 53.73% 37/66 = 56.06% 73/133 = 54.89% 146/266 = 54.89%
away 34/78 = 43.60% 36/71 = 50.70% 30/69 = 43.48% 100/218 = 45.87%
totals 70/145 = 48.28% 73/137 = 53.29% 103/202 = 51.00% 246/484 = 50.83%

For Anisimov, taking a face-off is all about speed and skill.

"Every face-off is big," he said. "There are a lot of things you have to work at like the stick placement and timing. But you also have to realize there are uncontrollables, like the puck might bounce or you get the puck in your skates. It's not an easy thing to do so you have to perfect it through practice."

Though Anisimov is confident in his own face-off skill, he credits the four other guys on the ice for several of his face-off wins as well.

"The wingers help win face-offs too, so face-offs take a lot more teamwork than people can usually see," said Anisimov. "When you win a face-off, your team has more chances to score. If you lose the face-off, then you are doing more work and chasing more pucks, which no one wants to do, so they help too." 

Mark Letestu

offensive zone defensive zone neutral zone totals
home 24/51 = 47.06% 30/63 = 47.62% 22/37 = 59.46% 76/151 = 50.33%
away 19/45 = 42.22% 25/60 = 41.67% 21/36 = 58.33% 65/141 = 46.10%
totals 43/96 = 44.79% 55/123 = 44.72% 43/73 = 58.90% 141/292 = 48.29%

Letestu has been the most consistent of all Blue Jackets players over several years in the circle. He has a 52 win percent over his six year NHL career, which is no easy feat. He has only ever ended the season with a less than 50 percent once (during the 2012-13 shortened season) as he struggled to find his groove in opposing arenas.

He's also the first to admit that he does not enjoy the high-pressure situation of taking a face-off in the defensive zone, where he struggles the most. "Unfortunately, I take a lot of draws in that zone because of the type of player I am, so it's a place where I just have to bear down and do the best I can," Letestu said.

Derek MacKenzie

Though MacKenzie does not have the face-off frequency of his four teammates listed above, he makes sure he's on the winning side of the battle in the circle. He's been solid in the offensive zone on opposing ice, winning 21-of-30 (70 percent) in that end of the ice. He also dominates at neutral zone face-offs at Nationwide Arena, winning 17-of-27 (62.96 percent) of draws against some of the best guys in the league--including the Sabres' Cody Hodgson and the Penguins' Brandon Sutter.
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