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Oilers make winning faceoffs priority vs. Ducks entering Game 4

Say improvement must be 'a team thing'

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers ranked last in faceoff win percentage (47%) in the NHL during the regular season but finished in second place in the Pacific Division with 103 points.

In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they entered Tuesday second to last in that category (44.6) through nine playoff games, but are two wins from the Western Conference Final.

 

[RELATED: Complete Ducks vs. Oilers series coverage | Ducks' Eaves unlikely to play Game 4]

 

Still, there is lingering concern around the Oilers heading into Game 4 of their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Place on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) that such results in the circle could eventually hurt them.

It did in Game 3 on Sunday, a 6-3 victory for the Ducks, who had a 37-27 advantage on faceoffs.

Anaheim, which had the best faceoff win percentage (54.7) in the regular season, owned the circle in Games 1 (38-29) and 2 (44-25). The Oilers won both games but have increased their focus on how to improve in that area.

"We have to be better as centermen," center Mark Letestu said. "They [the Ducks] were [No.] 1, we were 30, so this disparity was probably expected a little bit coming into the series. But faceoffs have to become a team thing."

Video: Derek Van Diest on the Oilers' playoff run

In the playoffs, Anaheim is ranked second (56 percent) behind the Minnesota Wild (57.4). The Oilers are 15th, ahead of only the St. Louis Blues (42.7).

But in the first three games between the Oilers and Ducks, the disparity has grown. Anaheim has won 119 of 200 draws, an edge of 59.5 percent to 40.5.

"It would be nice to come out 50-50 at least," center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said.

To that end, the Oilers have been working on other factors of the faceoff, not just focusing on winning the draw. What happens after the puck is dropped is just as important.

"There are different ways to get the puck back on faceoffs," captain Connor McDavid said.

The Oilers want their wings and defensemen to battle harder once the puck is dropped and have tried to clarify players' responsibilities. Some of it is working; they have advanced to the second round and lead the series against a better faceoff team.

Video: Breaking down Game 3 between Oilers and Ducks

Oilers coach Todd McLellan has pointed to improving faceoff performance as one focus in the postseason but didn't want to discuss specifics after practice Tuesday.

"That's like asking if we're going to keep throwing the curveball on the second pitch of the game," McLellan said. "I don't think many baseball managers are going to answer that."

Letestu, at 32 the oldest of the Oilers centers, said Edmonton is dealing with the disparity by trying to make the issue not just about that position.

"It's not always about winning the draw clean," he said. "Sometimes the centerman just has to win the puck to an area where your teammate can do some work for you. And we just have to do a better job in those areas."

Another key for the Oilers could be more or better "cheating," or bending the faceoff rules as much as linesmen will allow.

"It's one of those things where you're just trying to get an advantage and the linesman is there to throw you out [if] it's too over the line," Letestu said.

"It's not like we're not cheating. We're not the cleanest team in the League when it comes to faceoffs. We just haven't won as many as the other team right now."

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