Last season, the Rangers were one of the worst teams in the league at taking face offs. In fact, they were in the bottom five of the league, winning less than 50% of their face offs (47.7%). This year, the Rangers are in the top ten in face offs, winning 51.2% thus far. Face off wins lead to more puck possession, less play in your end, and more offensive chances. These wins mean even more on special teams.
The addition of Brad Richards to the Rangers this year has significant helped in the face off circle, where he leads the team with a 54.1% win rate. Brian Boyle (53.1%) and Brandon Dubinsky (52.1%) are the other Rangers over 50% on draws. Comparing this to last year, only Dubinsky was above 50% among the regular face off takers.
While adding Richards has been an incredible help in the circle, one cannot overlook the improvement that Brian Boyle has made in the dot. Last year Boyle’s face off percentage was just 48.5%, meaning he has increased his winning percentage by just under 5%…no small feat there. The consistency of Dubinsky and the addition of Richards compounds this, and the Rangers have become one of the best face off teams in the league.
Even Derek Stepan, who won just 38.5% of his face offs last year, has shown significant improvement in this area. Sure Stepan is still way under 50% (43.8%), but improvement is improvement, and this is another 5% uptick in efficiency on the draw. Even Artem Anisimov (44.5% last year, 47.7% this year) has shown improvement.
With such a young team, all anyone can ask for is improvement from the kids, and consistency from the veterans. Richards and Dubinsky have been providing that consistency, while the kids are getting better and better. Regression to the mean is possible for Boyle, and it is unlikely that he can maintain his 53% win rate, but even if he drops to 50%, it’s still an upgrade from last year.
As the Rangers enter a much more difficult schedule, winning face offs is going to become even more crucial. The majority of the teams they will face in their upcoming eight game stretch have very potent offenses that can make the Rangers pay if given too many opportunities. Puck possession limits those opportunities, and winning face offs is a critical component of puck possession. Such a small aspect of the game plays such a large role, it’s the beauty of the sport.