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Canucks, Sharks battle over faceoffs

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- The San Jose Sharks were the second best faceoff team in the NHL during the regular season and continued that dominance on the draw against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Led by Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, San Jose won 40 of 70 faceoffs (57 percent) in the opener of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday, but Canucks coach Alain Vigneault takes issue with how the Sharks did it.

“Instead of trying to beat some of those guys clean, the way they cheat and are allowed to cheat, it makes it more challenging,” Vigneault said when asked about the faceoff discrepancy. “They got quite a few guys that can take draws.”

That depth -- not cheating -- is the real key to the Sharks' success in the circle, said captain Joe Thornton, who was fourth in the NHL at 58.5 percent in the regular season and split his 20 faceoffs evenly in the first game of the best-of-7 series.

San Jose has nine forwards listed as natural centers, and that doesn’t include Patrick Marleau, who played the position for years, so there are usually two centers on the ice for every faceoff. That means the first guy in can be more aggressive without worrying about getting thrown out because he knows there is a backup plan.

“Yeah,” Thornton said. “For instance sometimes I play with [Pavelski] and he takes all the right-handed faceoffs and I take all the left. We always tend to have two centermen out there and two pretty good centermen too.”

As for all the talk about it since Game 1, Thornton just chuckled.

“It’s just gamesmanship,” he said. “Just coaches saying stuff and we’re saying stuff. It brings out the fun in the series.”

Fun aside, possession is important for two teams that believe establishing their forecheck is key to the series, and the Canucks felt they were chasing the play far too often after lost draws, especially on special teams.

“We’ve got to get better in that department,” said Ryan Kesler, who was the best Canucks faceoff participant at 48 percent in Game 1. “If we are better we are going to kill the penalty that much quicker and establish more end-zone time on the power play. And it’s not just centers. There are 50-50 pucks where we have talked to the wingers and the D-men and they know they can do a better job, just like us.”

Kesler said it should help having fellow center Derek Roy, who was 5-for-13 in Game 1, on the ice with him as the Canucks load up a second line for Game 2.

“Obviously you can be more aggressive with two centermen out there but we’re not going in there purposefully cheating,” Kesler said. “The linesmen were on top of us last game about having our feet back and being on the ice. There’s not much you can do when the linesmen are all over you like that”

As for accusations he cheats with the best of them, Kesler said, “I’ve taken faceoffs my whole career and I am not doing anything different.”

Maybe it will take a playful suggestion from Sharks coach Todd McLellan to finally settle it.

“One of these days coaches are going to end up coming in here (to the press conference room) with video equipment and playing four or five faceoffs and then we would throw out the theory of who is cheating,” McLellan said. “Faceoffs are about puck possession and if we do it better than they can all the more power to us.”

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