San Jose has been among the NHL’s faceoff leaders since Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan and his staff began hammering away the statistical importance of the plays. Even with the departure of Manny Malhotra this summer, the Sharks continue to lead the NHL in the category. That displays the team’s total emphasis on winning that first battle of every play and the total commitment from everyone involved.
Currently Scott Nichol leads the club with a 64.3 success rate and that is followed by Logan Couture
at 57.5, Joe Thornton
at 55.6 and Joe Pavelski
at 51.8. The individual centers play a dramatic role in the success, but with everyone ranking so high, it shows how hard the wingers are battling for the pucks that are up for grabs.
“The coaches want us to win every faceoff and we post the stats (in the room),” Thornton said. “It’s an important part of today’s puck possession game. We try to get it when we can. You want to be first in anything statistically.”
Nichol’s percentage is actually above his numbers from last year and everyone is simply driven to do more and the expected wins are also coming from Thornton and Pavelski. There was one relative unknown heading into the season.
Couture has earned his NHL stripes with his playoff performance last year, but by jumping right into the faceoff circle he has ingrained himself into the club’s culture.
“It feels good,” Couture said of pulling his weight on the red dots. “You always want to win faceoffs, but I’ve never been on a team where it is this big. I understand now that puck possession is a huge part of hockey. It’s a lot more important than I thought it was. You want to have the puck, you don’t want to be chasing it.”
The veteran centers appreciate Couture’s ability to join the Sharks faceoff talents.
“I think with him playing with Manny last year and going through the last half of the year (showed him),” said Nichol. “You can tell how much more mature he is just in faceoffs. I think defensive play starts with the faceoff and he is right up there with us. He competes as hard as anybody.”
None of the four centers though have any misconstrued beliefs that they alone are responsible for all the faceoff wins.
“It’s a team effort,” Nichol said. “It’s our wingers and our defensemen. About 60 percent are rugby scrums and 40 percent you may win it back a foot behind you. You don’t see it very often where you snap it back (for a clean win). Everyone is so strong and it’s just more of a compete factor and bumping the puck back a little bit and letting your wingers help you out.”
There are still areas for improvement for the Sharks even when they rank first in the league in the faceoff circles.
“Overall yes, but when you dig a little deeper, when you look at our penalty killing faceoff percentage, it’s not where it needs to be,” McLellan said. “I ask our centermen how we can be 11 for 11 on the power play and three for eight on the penalty kill, it’s the same guys taking them. Maybe there is just a little more drive when you get a reward offensively than there is on the defensive side. That could be one of our issues.”
It’s scary to think that there is actually room for improvement for the NHL’s best faceoff team, but when that comes, watch out.
The Sharks players are plenty focused on the task at hand tonight with the Devils. They know a talented team that has been struggling will come out extremely focused.
That noted, they are caught up in Giants fever like the rest of the Bay Area.
“I do keep track of the playoffs and I am a big fan of the Giants,” Patrick Marleau
said. “Hopefully they win it all.”
For as different as baseball and hockey are, athletes can appreciate the talents of others.
“It’s fun come playoff time because the microscope is on and everybody is watching,” Marleau said. “Everyone is talking about every little play and every little detail. It’s fun to see when guys step up to the plate and have great games.”
San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski
and his wife, Sarah, announced today the birth of their first child, Nathan Joseph Pavelski. Born last night at 10:10 p.m., Sarah and Nathan are both doing fine.
“He’s going to have that new father grin you can’t get off for a week or two,” Marleau said. “Then there will be some sleep deprivation after that. He’s going to do fine. He’s a great person that is going to carry over to being a dad.”
Pavelski had the morning off, but is expected to be in the lineup against New Jersey.
“I’ve been told he’ll be ready to play and we could sure use him,” McLellan said.
Antero Niittymaki was the first goalie off the ice at practice and looks set to start the contest.
The Sharks will host the New Jersey Devils Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com.