B's faceoff dominance leaves Pens seeking answers

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

PITTSBURGH – Prior to the start of the Eastern Conference Final, it was no secret the Boston Bruins held a decided edge over the Pittsburgh Penguins in winning faceoffs.

It just wasn't clear how dramatic that edge would be.

The Bruins as a team won 32 of 48 faceoffs in Game 1 Saturday night, including 22 of 30 at even strength, giving them an opportunity to start with the puck two thirds of the time.

The Penguins have not been a great faceoff team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, sitting at 48.2 percent, but the dominance in other areas of their game allowed them to perhaps sweep that weakness under the rug.

Now, facing a series deficit for the first time this postseason, this one wart in Pittsburgh's game is a bit more exposed and it's something the Penguins want to improve on for Game 2 Monday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"We know they're good on faceoffs and as centermen we need to find ways to win some," said Penguins center Brandon Sutter, one of Pittsburgh's go-to guys in the faceoff circle. "I think part of that is a little bit of help from our wingers."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma agrees with that assessment.

In his estimation, Pittsburgh was not as bad in Game 1 as the numbers would suggest.

"A large portion of the wins that Boston did get were not clean wins, they were 50/50 pucks in around the centermen that they got to first," Bylsma said Sunday. "I think that's something I talked about going in, for our focus for winning faceoffs [to be] helping our centermen out.

"We didn't do a good job of that. [Saturday] night they won the lion's share of those 50/50 pucks. They're a good faceoff team, but I think it tipped the numbers in their favor significantly [Saturday] night."

Those numbers would have been even more skewed in Boston's favor were it not for Jussi Jokinen, who won six of his 10 faceoffs, including 5 of 8 in the defensive zone. Otherwise, Sidney Crosby won 6 of 17 (35 percent), Sutter won 3 of 10 (30 percent) and Evgeni Malkin won 1 of 6 (17 percent). The team's top three centers therefore went a combined 10 of 33 on the night, a 30.3 percent success rate.

Bruins coach Claude Julien says his team spends a lot of time working on faceoffs, and he credited assistant coach Doug Jarvis for helping Boston become one of the NHL's top teams at winning draws. Jarvis, one of the top defensive forwards of his era, was a master of the faceoff, and he's now imparting that wisdom to the Bruins.

"Doug Jarvis was a really good faceoff guy in his day," Julien said. "I used to do that work with our centermen, but he was the guy that I felt this year would help us a lot in that area.

"There's certain players that were maybe average that are better than average now because he's gone in there and worked with those guys. But we work on faceoffs a lot with our centermen and take a lot of pride in that. I said it and I feel like I'm repeating myself here, but start with the puck, you're a better puck possession team than if you have to chase it."

No one in the NHL is as good at starting with the puck as Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who took a third of the game's draws Saturday and finished 10 of 16, which is practically an off night for him.

There is a certain mental edge a player has when he is the League dominant faceoff man, and Bergeron remembers what it felt like for him to have to face those guys when he was a younger player.

Now, that guy is him.

"When I used to face the best, I remember facing Yanic Perreault or the other leaders in the League, I was always even more ready to take those faceoffs," Bergeron said. "That's what players do against us, so we have to be that much more ready when we take a faceoff."