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Nicklas Backstrom leads the way in the defensive zone, but is that a good thing?

Statistical analysis

The Capitals have struggled a bit with faceoffs these first few games, causing Coach Bruce Boudreau to rely more heavily on Nicklas Backstrom for draws in the defensive zone. That perhaps explains why it took the Super Swede four games to record his first point of the 2010-11 NHL season.

Faceoffs in the defensive zone are extremely important; losing one causes the shots-against rate to be equivalent to the opposing team having a 10-15 second power play. Not counting Backstrom, who has won 60 percent of his defensive-zone starts through the first five games, the Capitals' centers are a woeful 34 percent. If Backstrom continues to be used as Boudreau's No. 1 option for faceoffs in the defensive zone, look for his boxcar stats to take a hit. Here's why:

Since 2007, Backstrom has been deployed in the offensive zone during even strength 59 percent of the time, meaning that for every 100 shifts he took over the last three years during 5-on-5 play, 59 of them started with a faceoff in the offensive zone. His linemate, Alex Ovechkin, was not far behind with 58 percent, allowing Backstrom to start off strong last season with 6 even-strength points (1 goal, 4 assists) in the first five games.

This season, Backstrom has started in the offensive zone just 49 percent of the time -- taking more defensive draws than any of the other pivots -- with a single assist as his only even-strength point scored. If he continues to be used this way, we should see a decline in offensive production, as the data from the last three years shows:

% Starts in offensive zone Points per 60 min. during 5-on-5
25-40 1.19
40-55 1.64
55-70 1.81
Centers with at least 40 games played last three seasons, courtesy of Behind the Net.

While Backstrom's ability to rack up points isn't much of a concern, this does continue to highlight a pressing need for a reliable option at center (either from within the organization or via trade) who can be used in defensive situations. Either way, "Backstrom for Selke" doesn't sound half bad.

Neil Greenberg also writes for Russian Machine Never Breaks. You can follow him on Twitter here.

By Neil Greenberg  | October 17, 2010; 3:50 PM ET
Categories:  Nicklas Backstrom, Statistical analysis  
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Next: Poll: Are you concerned about the Capitals' unbalanced play?


Insider2, eh?

Thanks for the insights, Neil.

Posted by: Justafan | October 17, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Backie will get back in the groove soon. Flash and Johannsen need to work on their faceoffs b/c it is killing our ability to get sustained offense and flow.

Posted by: capscoach | October 17, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

previous thread


If you read my post I clearly said I don't mind the silly impersonal jabs...heck I dole them out on ocassion, but extremely sexist remarks are uncalled for and should not be allowed to slide...not just sexist remarks either...anything personal or sensitive in nature...u have every right to disagree, but young people do come on sites like this and tellin me to go put on some make up and "get some" is NOT OK! I enoy having people disagree with me and challenge my beliefs! I even agree with cstanton more than I would like to admit...I do not agree with his attitude toward other posters and the Caps. Why should my sex be attacked just b/c I had the nerve to disagree with him? When I diagree with someone I keep my respone related to the issue I take fault with. When I don't agree with you do I then threaten your "manhood"? Ofcourse not! I may say you are too negative and biased or even whiny...but that all relates to the me a koolaid drinker, blind, or anything else related to my posts...but don't comment on me as a woman because it is wrong and sends a terrible message to young people...the last thing I would want my students to think is that when someone says something you find fault in, it is acceptable to attack them in order to shut them up.

Posted by: capscoach | October 17,

Posted by: capscoach | October 17, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

If Backstrom taking defensive zone faceoffs is what is going to win a Cup (Lord Stanleys cup, god I hate when people say that), then I'm all for it. Whatever it takes.

Posted by: LloydChristmas | October 17, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse


unless we get Backie some help it won't be enough. Without faceoff wins in the Offesnive zone we will struggle to play the puck posession game we r used to.

Posted by: capscoach | October 17, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Can someone explain to me why the Center has to take the faceoff? Flash and Johanson shouldn't be taking faceoffs. It should be Backstrom, Laich, Gordon, Steckle.

Posted by: Dirtbag59 | October 17, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

This is the price we pay for not bringing in a veteran center over the summer. Backstrom has to compensate for the weaknesses of the other centers, so there are fewer opportunities for him to do what he does best.

Posted by: zmega | October 17, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Can someone explain to me why the Center has to take the faceoff?

@dirtbag - you're right, one of the best centers of all-time, Peter Forsberg [whom Ray Bourque, Ron Francis and Steve Jones all say was one of, if not the, best players they ever played with or against] so it is not a prereq.

Flash has been playing great, other than the faceoffs, and MJ is adjusting well - so they should just switch it up on the draws.

And as I've pointed out before, with a few rare exceptions, the fact of the matter is faceoffs are vastly overrated as a stat.

Posted by: govtimbo | October 17, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse


I wholeheartedly approve of your statement which I reprinted below. Seriously very nicely said. Count me in as a fellow fan with a whole lotta concerns about our Caps who will nevertheless join you at the bar for that drink.

"To summarize:

--The season is long, and nobody really knows for sure how it'll all turn out--which is why they actually play 82 games.
--I would classify myself as cautiously optimistic. If this makes me a Kool-Aid® Drinker, then so be it--Bartender, pour me another!
--I sometimes agree with you, and sometimes not; you don't need to go away, just mellow out, and try recognizing that there are also some good things going on with the Caps: they're easy to find! Just look at where the team is vs. where it used to be.

Posted by: Rhino40 | October 17, 2010 2:57 PM

Posted by: Capsyoungguns | October 17, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Let's not get too worried this early in the season. Steckel and Gordon are both superb face-off guys, and history has shown that face-off skills rarely deteriorate overnight. They'll come around, giving BB one or two more options for defensive zones. Let's just be thankful that as bad as we've been on face-offs, we're 4-1.

Posted by: Gumpper | October 17, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Face-offs are the among least of this team's concerns.

Posted by: tmac2yao | October 17, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Heh... lemme try that again:

Face-offs are among the least of this team's concerns.

Posted by: tmac2yao | October 17, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Also, catching up on this and the previous thread, I don't think I'm going to read what things were said by cstanton to capscoach.

Honestly, I believe he was way out of line, because I've read horrible racist, sexists stuff from him before--not to me directly because I stopped engaging him in posts but certainly to anyone who dared to disagree. He's not interested in a dialogue and has a bad habit of writing waaaaay too many posts badgering others.

For every little bit of really perceptive and interesting observations that would catch my attention he would then muck it up with more Caps diatribes and personal insults to other posters.

If cstanton could curb his personal attacks and just stick to hockey I would read his posts--but alas I don't think he has it in him. Which is a shame because when he's objective he has something worthwhile to say about hockey.

Posted by: Capsyoungguns | October 17, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Anyone can take faceoffs, doesn't have to be a center... both Tkachuk and Neely were good at faceoffs and they were both wingers.

Heck they used to let Langway take a few defensive zone faceoffs as well. it's okay to lose faceoffs but what you don't want is lose them cleanly.

Posted by: joek443 | October 17, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone know what Johannsens Face off % was in the SEL? Because if it was good there, I am sure he will eventually get the hang of it over here...I know Backie was pretty bad at first too.

Posted by: capscoach | October 17, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone know what Johannsens Face off % was in the SEL? Because if it was good there, I am sure he will eventually get the hang of it over here...I know Backie was pretty bad at first too.

Posted by: capscoach | October 17, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

I for one dont want cstanton to disappear. He offers good opposing views (most of the time). But once he gets heated, he tends to view things a little biased and has no problem pushing back when being pushed. Sometimes he is just defending himself and sometimes due to the anger it is more of a "HULK-BASH....HULK-ANGRY" scenario.

And sorry for noticing he was a bit hot last night and went button pushing. I am too good at that. I dont believe I ever "attacked" him per se, but I def threw out some stuff I knew would rile him up a bit.

So to recap, cstanton...stick around bud.

To the others, sorry for getting him riled up.

Time to move on folks.

Posted by: SeminAllOverTheIce | October 17, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Yawn, Insider2, yawn ssssssnoreeee

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS1 | October 17, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Flash and Mackan are going to be rough on Face Offs all year. Fact. Marcus is a rookie and didn't play NA hockey before hand so a lot this is different. Tomas is still a winger. Both are going up against guys who have centered all their lives and a lot longer in the NHL. Its a rough learning curve for them.

What we do need is Hendricks, Steckel and Gordon to win a lot more FOs on the 4rth. Steckel was in the top 10 in % last season and hasn't done well yet this season.

Posted by: breaklance | October 18, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse


I agree that there is a learning curve for both Flash and MJ in the faceoff circle. But the best place to learn and practice is during regular season games. They will each have all season to work on their craft and like many others who initially start taking faceoffs in the NHL they will improve with practice.

It's not a big deal. If the percentages are the same at the end of the season, then there could be some worry. But then I would go with the suggestion of letting Laich take the draws instead of Flash.

Posted by: sgm3 | October 18, 2010 12:12 AM | Report abuse

It would seem to me that Tomas Fleischmann is going to be traded somewhere during the 2010 season. He is a pending free agent and the Caps are not going to give him a long-term contract with the other younger players they have that will need deals in the next 1-2 years.

So, in order to get something for him I would forward that he most likely will be traded to a team for a defensive forward who can skate and has some set up ability.

He won't score 25 plus goals like Fleischmann but he will be an asset on the PK and faceoffs.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | October 18, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

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