San Jose showed their faceoff prowess to the National Hockey League last season. The trend has continued this season.
As of Monday morning, they were leading the entire League with a 56.8 percent success rate. That number is even more impressive considering only two other clubs are above 52 percent.
Scott Nichol leads the Sharks with an amazing 64.2 winning percentage, which ranks second in the NHL. From a team perspective, San Jose not only has Nichol sitting second, but they also have four in the NHL’s top 12. The others include Patrick Marleau
, 10th at 56.6 percent, Manny Malhotra (11th, 56) and Joe Thornton
(12th, 55.8 percent).
And those are just the players with enough faceoffs to be eligible. Other successful Sharks include Joe Pavelski
(58.3 percent) and rookie Logan Couture
(54.6 percent), who was returned to San Jose’s American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester over the weekend.
The Sharks work very hard in practice and even the morning pregame skates in faceoffs. Everyone knows the importance of winning the draw.
“It’s the first battle for a loose puck and it starts every shift,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan, noting how those battles can carry over into other areas on the rink.
The individuals on the spot when the puck drops are the most vital part of the success, but make no mistake, it takes more than just one person.
“The numbers reward the individuals. There are definitely three and sometimes five people involved,” McLellan said. “A lot of players contribute to a win.”
“A lot of factors go into it,” Marleau said. “Not all draws are won cleanly.”
Then there are times when the pivot man can do his job, but if the others don’t jump in, even the best effort can go to waste.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than winning the faceoff and not (getting the puck),” said McLellan.
For the Sharks and their puck possession game, the faceoff is more critical than to other clubs who prefer to dump and chase.
Offensively, faceoff wins play a big role in San Jose ranking third in the NHL on the power play (first on the road), but defensively it’s a large factor in the franchise sitting third overall on the penalty kill (first at home).
“When you win on the penalty kill, you can erase 20-30 seconds,” McLellan said.
“When you have a good faceoff team and yo’are in trouble, you can always ice the puck and the odds are good you will come up with it (on the ensuing faceoff),” Nichol said.
So what makes a great faceoff man? Looking at the above mentioned players, it clearly has nothing to do with a player’s physical size. The Sharks have superstars and checkers racking up wins. With Thornton being 6-foot-4, Nichol standing 5-foot-9 and Marleau and Malhotra somewhere in between, San Jose is winning with all sizes of players.
“Sometimes the little guys have a better chance because they start lower,” Nichol said. “Sometimes the big guys use their heavy stick.”
Skill plays a role as you can’t have slow hands, but maybe the key is the will.
“A lot of it is tenacity,” Nichol said. “Never give up. Some nights it’s like a rugby scrum. Some nights it’s easier.”
Nichol knew how good San Jose was on faceoffs when he signed as a free agent before the season.
“I knew Joe and Patty were really good,” Nichol said. “Once we signed Manny, those guys are always near the top 10.”
When the Sharks are completely healthy, they also have the ability to have multiple strong faceoff men on a line, allowing players to take draws from their strong side. Or to have a talented substitute in case they’re tossed from the circle.
“There are two guys on every line,” Nichol said.
When it comes to draws, the Sharks appear to be the deepest team in the League.
“Never,” said Malhotra when asked about being on a team this good in the circles top to bottom. “In Columbus we were close with (Michael) Peca and (Antoine) Vermette. This is by far the deepest faceoff team for me.”
The faceoff rankings have created a bit of a good-natured rivalry in the Sharks locker room.
“They talk about it,” McLellan said. “It is very much in the conversation.”
“There’s a little bit of an in-house rivalry,” Nichol said. “It’s a good competition.”
Faceoff percentage isn’t a “throw away” stat. The numbers are very important to the coaches and players.
“A lot of guys make a living on faceoffs,” Nichol said.
Goals scored and prevented are how hockey games are won, but the faceoff allows the Sharks to have more opportunities to score and allows for less opportunities to be scored against.
ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER SHARK IS AN NHL STAR OF THE WEEK
Evgeni Nabokov was named the NHL’s second star for the week. Nabokov posted a 2-0-1 record with a 0.95 goals-against average and .967 save percentage as the Sharks (12-4-2) climbed to first place in the NHL overall standings.
Nabokov stopped 26 shots and all three shootout attempts in a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 4, turned aside 35 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 5 and made 27 saves in posting his 49th career shutout, a 5-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 7.
Nabokov, who was named the NHL Third Star last week, improved to 11-3-2 with a 2.14 GAA, .925 save percentage and two shutouts in 17 appearances. He shares the League lead in victories with Colorado’s Craig Anderson.
The Sharks Foundation will be playing hosts to food drives at their home games on Nov. 10 and Nov. 12 to support the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties in their annual Holiday Food Drive.
Sharks fans can assist by making canned food or monetary donations as they enter the HP Pavilion at San Jose for the Sharks games on Nov. 10 (vs. Nashville) and Nov. 12 (vs. Dallas).
All donors will receive a raffle ticket for a drawing to be held that night, with prizes including autographed Sharks items. Raffle winners will be announced on the Video Board during the first intermission and must claim their prize at the Sharks Foundation booth (located outside Section 124) before the end of the second intermission.
Items most needed are canned meals (soups, chili, etc.), canned meats (chicken, tuna, etc.), peanut butter, canned vegetables and fruits, low-sugar cereals, 100 percent fruit juices in single serving boxes and other non-perishable items. Items in glass jars cannot be donated.
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties has been serving low income children, adults and seniors for nearly 20 years. Each year, they distribute more than 30 million pounds of food, serving approximately 162,000 individuals each month. The Holiday Food Drive is the largest single campaign organized by Second Harvest Food Bank. Each year more than 1,800 organizations participate, making it the largest food drive in the nation. Through this drive, their goal is to raise $5 million and collect 1.9 million pounds of food.
Visit www.2ndharvest.net for more information on the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND…
…are the roster cards at each Sharks home game. The cards feature an action photograph of a Sharks player along with the rosters for each team. This long-time staple at Sharks home games can be purchased at the program stands, located on the Concourse.
San Jose will play hosts to Nashville Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be available on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.