Early in their first round series with the Montreal Canadiens, the Sens’ faceoff performances came under some scrutiny. Not only were players on either team being consistently tossed from the draw, the Sens had been singled out for losing crucial draws at crucial moments.
Since Game 3 of that first round series, the Sens have turned it around in the circle consistently winning upwards of 50 per cent of the draws as a team with those who take the majority checking in north of 60 per cent. While there are plenty who would argue convincingly that dominating faceoffs are not always directly related to winning hockey games, there are many positives to be taken from having your way on the draw.
Last night the Sens put in another solid effort in the faceoff circle, this time against the Penguins. Ottawa as a team won 54 per cent of their draws and a large part of that can be attributed to the work of Kyle Turris. Turris took a game high 21 faceoffs last night and won 67 per cent of them, another game high. That mark includes a sparkling 89 per cent success rate in the defensive zone.
The Sens controlled possession for a fair portion of Game 1 — certainly more than the final score indicated — with much of that success hinging on their ability to move the puck efficiently out of the defensive zone. A faceoff win and subsequent pass out of the zone helped keep the Pens at bay — particularly at even strength — with Turris playing a key role.
His evolution as a defensive player has been well documented since the beginning of the playoffs. Away from the puck he has become a reliable two-way option, his work in the faceoff circle has steadily improved over the course of the season and his production has been solid despite playing against the toughest opposition he has had to face to this point in his young career.
As an aside, it may go without saying that no player stands to benefit more from the theoretical return of Jason Spezza than Turris. His quality of competition would soften dramatically after a year of facing shutdown centres and top pairings. Attention would shift to the NHL’s fourth highest scorer from 2012. A corresponding increase in Turris’ tangible production — in theory, at least — follows from there.
The performance on the draw has been the direct result of time Turris has put in away from the ice. After those early Round 1 struggles, Turris went to the tape to figure out what was going wrong for him. Tape doesn’t lie. After some careful review, the Sens top centre had tendencies to correct and did just that.
“Little things. Different sides of the ice in terms of how they're winning them and how we're winning them. If we're losing them I can tell my winger to go here, just things like that I wasn't doing well the first couple of games but try to improve on in general,” said Turris. “We use video quite a bit. Our video guy (Tim Pattyson) is awesome, he just cuts all the clips for us and it's pretty easy to do.”
The result has been faceoff numbers consistently over 60 per cent and increased trust from Paul MacLean. Turris’ ice time has reflected the improvement — he has been their most used forward since Game 3 against Montreal — and his performance hasn’t dropped off with the extra workload. His 8-of-9 record in the defensive faceoff circle on Tuesday night included winning 5-of-6 against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Neutralizing a team’s top weaponry is a six player effort that goes beyond the isolated performance of your blueline or goaltender. Winning a D-zone faceoff is part of that effort.
The Sens improvement as a whole has been the collective work of their centre group. In many ways faceoffs, like scoring, can be cyclical. It’s not uncommon to alternate stretches of infallibility and long dry spells. However, as has been characteristic of this Sens team all season long, the rest of the group tries to pick up the slack when one member may be sputtering.
Collectively, they have benefited from the team approach.
“We all come together before games to talk about guys we're facing and we watch video on them,” said Turris. “If anyone has advice on a certain individual after the first period and he's winning a bunch on one of the guys, he'll help everyone else and say 'If you're going in against him get low' and that sort of thing.”
While faceoff performance, in many ways, is unpredictable from one game to the next. The Sens have clearly found a way to improve a facet of their game which came under scrutiny at various points this season.
With many positives to be taken from Game 1 and many teachable moments to be taken from the rest, the good news is the Sens can always fall back on the film. The best part of being that type of film critic? You can fix the parts you didn’t like a few days later.
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