Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Babs we trust...but who should he trust?

It's late in a game, and there's a faceoff in your defensive zone. Obviously the goal is to win the faceoff, but how important is it to do so? There's a must-read article by Gabe Desjardins of over on Hockey Prospectus that answers this question. Go there, read the article, have your mind blown by the two graphs, and come back here to figure out how it applies to the Wings.

The first three charts below show total faceoffs a player was on the ice for in each zone, how many were won, and how many were lost. This isn't the number of faceoffs the player took because there's obviously no way Ian White's taken over 400 draws. Instead, it's purely how many they were on the ice for. The top portions of the tables aren't all that useful because it's all defensemen and they really don't have much of an impact on faceoffs. It makes sense that they were out there the most as their shifts are typically longer and their ice time higher. If you're on the ice more than a forward, you're going to be on the ice for more faceoffs than a forward. The charts become more useful a little further down, when we can see what forwards tend to be on the ice in what situation and how they tend to do.

We really want to focus on defensive zone faceoffs for the purpose of this post, but I threw in the offensive and neutral zone charts as well. Why? Because they were already open in my browser and I spent time on them this weekend, so why not. Also, like I mentioned earlier, you can track performance across situations with them. Expect some sort of more fully developed post about them in the near future.

If you didn't read the article listed above (and really, you should) you need to know that average opponent shot rate increases to about that of a 5-on-3 powerplay during the first few seconds after a lost defensive zone draw. That means a defensive zone faceoff specialist, or at least someone halfway decent at d-zone draws, plays a critical role in reducing shots faced. 

Before really delving into the players and their faceoff percentages, I should note how I got from the chart above to the one below. The chart below is looking only at centers who have taken over 250 faceoffs this season. Typically the center is the player who is expected to take the faceoff, and even though said player can sometimes get tossed from the circle it hasn't happened enough this year to be worth accounting for. The next highest forward is Franzen with 176, and there's a huge dropoff after that. 

Do the Wings have a defensive zone faceoff specialist? Yes, and then some. Datsyuk and Helm are both winning over 60% of their d-zone draws, and only Emmerton is really struggling in this area. Little things like this are the reason that Datsyk is perhaps the best forward in the world, and the reason that Helm keeps racking up minutes in spite of his hands of rock. Mike Babcock is in the enviable position of having 5 centers  he can trust to win a defensive zone faceoff, two of which could be considered elite.

Moral of the story: if it's late in a playoff game and there's a faceoff in Detroit's end, hope that 13 or 43 are in the circle to take the draw. If they are, there's a good chance Detroit won't have to handle a barrage of shots against.
All raw data via

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