There are a lot of reasons not to be worried. The season is two games in, and it’s pretty hard to see much meaningful in two games. Not only that, but the Oilers have won both of them, and the off-season’s biggest question mark, Nikolai Khabibulin, has been splendid. Still, faceoffs have been pointed to as an area of concern.
Oilers Nation’s Jason Gregor highlighted the faceoff issue in his most recent column:
[The Oilers’] most glaring weakness has been their faceoffs; Again. Shawn Horcoff and Colin Fraser were supposed to be good, but they are 40% and 42.3% respectively. Gilbert Brule is 70% on the ten draws he has taken, and you wonder if Renney will start to use him more. They were awful against Florida, 33%, and that was a big reason why the Panthers always seemed to have the puck. It is early, but Renney admitted he is concerned, so I’ll be curious to see what he does to improve it.
Given the problems of the last few seasons, it’s probably a good idea to be aware of the issue and keeping an eye out, but something struck me about the percentages Gregor quoted: the two players most of us expected to be good, Horcoff and Fraser, are also the two guys taking a lot of faceoffs on the penalty kill. This got me to wondering whether that could be submarining their totals, so I went back and got the Oilers faceoff numbers by game state. They are as follow:
Those numbers help show the debate in a little more balanced terms:. We see Horcoff’s just one faceoff below the 50% mark, while Fraser is at exactly 50% at even-strength. Like most teams, the Oilers have done a tremendous job winning face-offs on the power play, taking home 75% of the draws.
Shorthanded, the opposite is true: they’ve won only 25% of draws. Brule’s been a beneficiary of a lot of power play draws, while Horcoff and Fraser have seen their overall number plummet thanks to taking a lot of penalty-killing faceoffs.
That said, as the season goes on this should balance out – the 75/25 split on special teams was much smaller last year, and I’d expect that as we get further into the season we’ll see the difference shrink (though it won’t ever get to a 50/50 balance).
That isn’t to say that Brule’s faceoff wins on the power play don’t matter, or that the struggles of Horcoff/Fraser on the penalty-kill don’t matter either, just that it’s important to take into account where these players take their draws when comparing them. Still, if Brule’s power play numbers stay solid I don’t see why he wouldn’t end up getting more faceoffs at even-strength.