The Caps, Winning, and Face-Off Percentage

Posted March 19, 2013

Photo by Alena Schwarz

No matter where you get your hockey news, you always hear pundits talk about the importance of generating shots night in and night out. One stat that doesn’t get mentioned as much but should be equally considered: Face-off percentage. More face-offs won gives a team possession of the puck longer, creates more chances, and applies pressure on the opposing team as well, especially those won in the offensive zone.

Is there a correlation to face-off percentage and winning? Yes, there is.

I went through each game the Capitals have faced and tallied what the ending face-off percentages were for Washington and their opponents, then checked it against the final score. The results were plotted on a spreadsheet and then I was able to calculate a winning percentage for the team who had the higher final face-off percentage. Here are the results:

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 9.48.10 AM

As you can see, more than half of the time when the team won a higher percentage of face-offs, they also won the game. While 28 games may seem like a small sample size, the results won’t deviate so much over the course of an 82-game season as to completely skew the results.

To give this a little more context, I also charted the face-off percentages for each forward:

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 9.52.13 AM

The most troublesome aspect of these percentages is that the guys who are expected to be the top-six forwards are doing worse from the dots than the guys who are supposed to be in the top-six. The two men who center the top two lines, Nick Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro, win less than 50% of their face-offs combined. For guys who somewhat see favorable zone starts — Ribeiro starts his shift in the offensive zone 55% of the time while Backstrom sees 49.1% of his shifts start in the offensive zone — they must do a better job at winning face-offs.

To make a long story short, for the Capitals to generate more shots and to drive possession, it all starts at the dots. Until they can start winning more face-offs and giving themselves more chances to score, this team will be stuck in the rut they continue to find themselves in.