After much hue and cry over the Oilers’ faceoff failures last season, the criticism of the team’s performance in that department has lessened. Of course, a 5-2-1 start lessens the criticism in every department, but the team has actually seen modest improvements, going from 47.9% last year to 49.4% this year.
That 1.5% increase basically works out to one extra faceoff win per game; which suggests that people like me may have raised too much fuss over last season’s struggles in the faceoff circle.
Still, it’s far too early to congratulate Quinn on improving the team’s faceoffs, or to congratulate Steve Tambellini on fixing the problem, because the reality is that the one of the biggest reasons the percentage has shifted is because Pat Quinn is using Shawn Horcoff on more faceoffs than Craig MacTavish did last year.
Consider this simple breakdown:
- Horcoff: 53.9% success rate
- Rest of the team: 44.4% success rate
- Percentage of faceoffs taken by Horcoff: 36.86%
- Horcoff: 54.0% success rate
- Rest of the team: 46.3% success rate
- Percentage of faceoffs taken by Horcoff: 40.50%
When you put all those numbers together, it means that of the 1.5% increase in faceoff percentage, nearly one-third of it (0.4%) was caused simply by Quinn’s decision to use Horcoff more on draws. Much of the rest can be attributed to Andrew Cogliano, who went from being the worst faceoff man in the NHL in the last decade to simply being below-average. If he can keep that up, it will make a significant difference to the Oilers season percentages (and really, it’s a huge leap forward).
The real question though is how much using Horcoff for faceoff duty is hurting this team. Last year, the question of how much those extra faceoffs hurt the rest of Horcoff’s game was raised more than once around the Oilogosphere. This summer, Jason Gregor asked Horcoff about it in an interview (I’d post the link, but it seems to be gone), and Horcoff responded thusly:
"Honestly, there were times where it’s taxing. There were times where at least in the third period I was taking every defensive zone faceoff for the majority of the games, and it gets tough. As easy as it sounds to just jump on the ice, take a faceoff and get off, it saps energy. You don’t get the recovery time on the bench to get your legs back under you. A lot of times I was going on and off the ice four times within a minute and half, two minutes. It was a little bit tough."
"But, like I said, a player never complains about ice time. He enjoys being out there as hard as it is. I enjoy taking faceoffs. I’ve always taken pride in that part. It’s a great one-on-one battle in the game and I like doing it. But, at the same time, a little bit of help would be nice in there."
Last year, Horcoff took 1756 faceoffs. This year, he’s on pace for 1804. Last year, Horcoff led the league in faceoffs taken. This year, he’s on pace to lead the league in faceoffs taken. Last year, he took far more defensive zone than offensive zone draws. This year, he’s taken far more defensive zone than offensive zone draws. Last year, Shawn Horcoff had his worst season since the NHL lockout. This year, given that his regular LW is J-F Jacques and his powerplay time has been reduced, he’ll probably be in tough to match last year’s results.