The battle for the dot, the fight within the circle. The faceoff is only the beginning of the fight that goes on the ice once the puck drops. So many characteristics go within the art of the faceoff, and I will break them down for you here.
What Happens in the Circle?
When two players line up for the faceoff, the objective is not necessarily to win the puck back to your team. Various situations depend on what needs to happen within the circle. The goal of the faceoff circle is gain possession, but also gain ground. Gaining ground sometimes requires the centerman to purposely lose the faceoff in order to gain ground on the opponent to force them to make mistakes and result in a scoring chance. All strategies depend on coaching styles of course, but what I will share with you is the coaching I received as a young centerman playing Junior hockey.
First, let’s begin with the basics. There are multiple ways to win a faceoff. The standard is to win the puck on the forehand or the backhand back to the defenseman. This opens up your team for a potential hasty breakout or better vision of the ice for an offensive play into the zone. This type of win is used in all three zone of the ice (defensive, neutral, and offensive).
- It is used in the defensive zone to start a breakout to move the puck up the ice and/or used to lure an opposing forechecker down low to gain a man-advantage moving up the ice.
- It is used in the neutral zone to simply get a better vision of the ice and the opposing team to find weak points in order to strike and produce quick scoring opportunities.
- It is also used in the offensive zone to produce scoring chances from the blue line, such as shots from the point and d-to-d passes to move the goalie around.
The best faceoff man on the Caps was hands down Jay Beagle, however, he will no longer be in Washington following his four-year signing with the Vancouver Canucks.
The tie up.
The tie up is used best in the offensive zone in order to catch the goaltender off guard using a screen setup by both centermen. Once they are tied up, either wingmen are supposed to gain possession of the loose puck at the dot and either shoot for a screened scoring opportunity or pass the puck back to the defense to open up the play. Nicklas Backstrom is the best at this type of faceoff for the Caps and was especially effective earlier in his career when he was paired up with Alex Ovechkin. In the video below, notice Backstrom taps the puck slightly past the opposing centerman giving ex-Caps winger Marcus Johansson the opportunity to jump and pass it back to Ovechkin who was locked and loaded. Great example of the tie up.
Forced loss and forecheck
This mostly effective in the offensive and neutral zone, depending on opponent weaknesses. This is sometimes executed by pushing the puck forward behind the opposing centerman and applying a strong forecheck, forcing them to potentially make a mistake. This is a very risky play that does not work all the time, especially at the NHL level. In the video below, jump to video time 2:24 and notice the forced turnover in the corner, quick pass play and goal from Chandler Stephenson. While this is not directly following a forced faceoff loss, this is the result you look for from it.
As stated before, one of the biggest losses this offseason was the Caps veteran centerman Jay Beagle and the Caps look to find a replacement to fill the void. Let’s take a look at the Caps center depth and candidates to replace the 4th line role.
Filling the Beags Gap
Travis Boyd is the frontrunner as of now to take the role. He has played numerous season with the Hershey Bears and has flourished as a capable centerman. He was given looks last season in a few games when the injury bug took jabs at the Caps roster and was eventually paired alongside Ovechkin at one point. This link directs you to the video clip of Boyd’s beautiful assist on Ovechkin’s goal versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
Nic Dowd was recently acquired off the free agent market and previously played for the Vancouver Canucks at center. The Caps signed him to a one-year contract in hopes of trying out for that 4th line spot. His NHL career kicked off in 2015, where he was called up for a few games with the LA Kings. He earned a permanent spot with the club the following season recording 22 points in 70 games played. Traded in the 2017-2018 season to a struggling Vancouver team, he recorded only 4 points of 56 games played between both teams given a depth center role. We may see him a lot this preseason and possibly this regular season.
Jayson Megna was also acquired this offseason off the free agent market and previously played for the Canucks as well. He has made his way around the league since 2013, playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers along with their affiliates prior. Some are saying that he is a signing for Hershey’s center situation, but anything could happen based on performance.
Michael Sgarbossa was also acquired from the free agent market and believed to be on the same boat Megna is, Hershey bound. He has made his way around the NHL as well, playing for the Colorado Avalanche (2013-2015), the Anaheim Ducks (2015-2017), and the Florida Panthers (2016-2017) at the NHL level. This is not to include his experience in the AHL. Not too many public highlights for him, so I would expect him to play in Hershey.
Image from NHL.com
Liam O’Brien is also a minor consideration for the 4th line spot. He played a few games with the Caps at wing as a hard-hitting grinder and made a slight mark in the Caps organization as an instigator. He’s played in Hershey the past few seasons, but if needed we could see him called up for a few more games to play rough-tough teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins.