Saturday, December 11, 2010

Faceoff Foibles

MINNEAPOLIS -- When you see every game, sometimes memories start to jumble together. You can't keep track of whether a particular moment came from one game or another.

You start to remember goals happening in the wrong game. Big hits in the Alaska-Anchorage series suddenly happened in the Providence series.

Watching Friday's 3-2 loss to Minnesota, a few things popped into my head. I felt UMD's effort for the first 40 minutes was largely not up to snuff. The Bulldogs didn't do a lot of good things, especially in their defensive zone and the neutral zone. I felt they gave too much room to a Gopher team that has plenty of talent, but isn't exactly the 1976 Soviet Olympic team.

My biggest gripe -- anyone who listened to the game knows this -- was UMD's performance over the first 40 minutes on faceoffs. They lost them all over the ice. Minnesota won 19 of 27 faceoffs in the first period, 35 of 56 faceoffs over two periods, and finished 44 of 77 for the game after UMD won 12 of 21 in the third.

This isn't an indictment of any individuals, because until UMD started playing better, no one was performing well in the faceoff circle, not even Travis Oleksuk, UMD's best faceoff guy. Instead, it's more of a curiosity.

Looking at UMD's games this season -- the faceoff numbers for the UAA series were not available -- the ability to win faceoffs hasn't meant win or lose or draw, and it hasn't necessarily led UMD to their better games this season.

That said, some of their poorer performances in the dots have come in games during which the overall team performance wasn't great.

Against Lake Superior State (6-6 tie), UMD lost 50 of 88 faceoffs.

In their first loss, a 4-2 setback at North Dakota, the Bulldogs were 22-33 on faceoffs.

In that insane 6-5 overtime win over Wisconsin, UMD won just one of 13 draws in the first period, and finished 22-28 for the game. The next night, UMD won 31 of 50 draws, a much better performance that came along with a much better overall team effort. Oh, and it took overtime to win, anyway.

Friday, UMD lost 44 of 77 draws.

It's not a totally direct corollary. The Bulldogs were just 26-35 on draws in the Saturday overtime win over North Dakota. They were 28-32 in a 7-1 win over Providence.

However, it's an interesting thing to ponder. Obviously, faceoffs are important. They're puck possession, and unless you're Jay Barriball, you can't score when you don't have the puck. At the same time, though, can something as seemingly simple as a faceoff dictate how the next two to three minutes of hockey play out?

Yes and no.

When you're not going good, as UMD wasn't on Friday, and you are constantly chasing the puck, you wear yourself down and make it harder to do anything productive when you do have the puck. You find yourself in ruts where you get the puck deep in the opponent's zone, only to have to make a line change because the guys that were out there had to spend 45 seconds chasing the puck around the rink. So that line change happens. Meanwhile, the opponent has retrieved the puck and gotten it back in their offensive zone, and the cycle continues.

Of course, if you're going good, the faceoff is simply a means to take the puck from the opponent. If a team playing well loses the draw, they're still going to find a way to get it.

UMD gets in trouble on nights where they're not playing well and they're not winning draws. It might seem like the two are tied together, but the reality is that it only seems that way.

Hopefully, the Bulldogs -- with plenty of experienced faceoff guys -- can figure out the draws. It's one of very few flaws that they haven't really corrected yet this season.

That's a big reason why they hit their snow day at 12-3-2.

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