The Face-off Conundrum

Of the four major sports, hockey probably uses the least amount of statistical study.  I can see why.  There isn’t much people can look at other than goals, assists, penalty minutes, and plus/minus to determine what a specific player actually does on the ice.  While face-off statistics are kept, they are incredibly straight forward, don’t really tell anything about the situation prior to the face-off and never explain the outcome.  The definition of a face-off win is getting control of the puck for your team but after that, no one knows what the hell happened. 

During last night’s game, I can think of two instances where the Hawks ‘won’ a face-off in the neutral zone.  However, all they really did was knock the puck all the way into their defensive zone.  This could be considered just as much a win for San Jose as they can go straight into their fore check.  Also during last night’s game, both teams scored goals off set face-off plays.  Milan Michelak scored for San Jose when Joe Pavelski won the draw straight back to Michelak who quickly fired a shot past Huet.  The Hawks countered with their own set play when Patrick Sharp won the face-off to Martin Havlat, who passed it to Cam Barker who then sent the puck to his partner Brian Campbell for the one timer with Sharp providing the screen in front.  Now those are two examples of the face-off wins being incredibly more important than a simple neutral zone draw but no one would ever know if they didn’t watch the game. 

What I’m suggesting the NHL do is break up the way they keep face-off stats.  In addition to still keeping track of wins and losses, they should also chart face-offs in the following categories:

NZ (Neutral Zone Face-offs)- Basic run of the mill face-off in the neutral zone. 

SOGF (Shot on goal from Face-off)-  Shot on goal that were a direct result of the face-off win

SOGFA (Shot on goal from Face-off against)- Shot on goal against resulting from face-off lost  

FG (Face-off goals) – Goals scored off face-off wins

FGA (Face-off goals against) – Goals scored against from face-off losses

Not only would fans (or coaches) then have instant access to who is his team’s best center is in a must win offensive face off, they would also know their best defensive zone center.  Say the Hawks are protecting a one goal lead with a minute left and a face-off in their zone.  Toews and Sharp are their two best centers going that night with each winning their draws at about a 55 percent clip.  Toews is arguably their best defensive forward, but he’s also had 22 shots against off face-offs lost throughout the season.  Sharp, on the other hand, isn’t as solid as Toews in the defensive zone but he’s only had 13 shots against off face-offs lost.  This would also show how quickly their linemates are getting to their assignments.  Who would be the better bet in that situation?  (Mind you, this is all hypothetical.  I haven’t been charting face-off wins and losses and plays resulting off of them.  I’m not a loser or anything)  Sharp would be probably be the stronger candidate in this case because of he and his linemates ability to prevent shots on goal from face-offs lost. 

I’m sure there are all sorts of holes in my logic in developing these statistics and would love to hear them.  All I know is there’s more to face-offs than simply winning or losing.  Unfortunately, that’s all we have to show for it now.

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