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Kuzma: From last to 7th, Canucks mastering art of the draw

The Bookie

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Lots of interesting little technical tidbits in here. Looks like Manny's work is already paying off. 


I bolded a few parts of choice.





“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

That’s a common refrain when gaining a faceoff edge is the topic du jour. And with the Anaheim Ducks bringing their top-ranked Murderer’s Row of circle specialists to Rogers Arena on Thursday — a 56.8-per-cent collective rating for Antoine Vermette (66.3), Ryan Kesler (59.8), Ryan Getzlaf (53.8) and Rickard Rakell (52.6) — the Vancouver Canucks are going to be taxed mentally and physically.

So expect crowding of the faceoff dot, head-butting and even some jawing to throw the opposition off.

“You know Getzlaf and Kesler are going to try and power you,” Canucks centre Brandon Sutter said Wednesday. “They like to crowd the circle and when they start cheating and creeping forward, it makes it harder.

“My first couple of years in Carolina, we had Rod Brind’Amour, Ron Francis and Eric Staal — some pretty good guys. You don’t realize how important draws are in the NHL. In junior, you just take them. It’s such a possession game here and it’s just a mindset.”

Brandon Sutter’s presence in the circle was missed last season. 

One of the good-news stories is the Canucks’ ascension from 30th to seventh in NHL faceoff winning percentage.

A lot of that has to do with a healthy Sutter, who played just 23 games last season because of hernia surgery and a fractured jaw. It placed added pressure on Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, Jared McCann and Brendan Gaunce to pick up the slack. But the Canucks bottomed without their key and only right-hand shot in Sutter.

It also meant taking a harder look at the position and hiring former Canucks centre Manny Malhotra as a development coach who has contributed to a stark turnaround in the circle.

Sutter is at 53.6-per-cent, followed by Horvat (51.2), Henrik Sedin (50.3) and Gaunce (50). And in short studies, Michael Chaput is 54.5 in 11 games and Granlund, who has moved to wing, just 40 per cent. But Sutter is the straw that stirs the drink and has stayed above the 50-per-cent success bar the last three seasons.

“He understands his role and is a trusted guy on the PK (penalty kill) and late in the game because you know you can put him out there,” said Malhotra. “And when he’s in the lineup, it rubs off on other guys.

“It becomes a big mind game. It you win you’re first two or three, you feel you have that rhythm and the guy you’re going against starts to question himself. But if you lose two or three in a row, you wonder if you have to change something up. And when you over-think, that’s when things go south.

Canucks development coach Manny Malhotra was a monster in the faceoff circle.

“There are hundreds of different styles, but the guys who are successful are very effective at one or two things.”

It’s as simple as information and application or as complicated as picking up tendencies on video and applying them. Younger players often need a lot of structure and guidance while veterans will rely more on instincts and experience. And any edge Malhotra can find, like cheating, is always welcome.

“That’s a strong word — it’s anticipating — but you learn what you can get away with,” chuckled Malhotra. “I cut tape and show tendencies. I never push guys and some you just leave alone. The young guys are learning and want information, and it’s focusing on your strengths.”

Malhotra was a menace in the circle. In his 991 career games with seven teams, the Mississauga, Ont., native won 56.4-per-cent of his faceoffs and hit 61.54 with Dallas in 2003-04.

“When I went to Columbus and was working with Hitch (coach Ken Hitchcock), I realized that was the way to get extra minutes,” added Malhotra. “If you’re good at faceoffs, you’re going to be out for the PK and at the end of the game.

“You develop a rapport with linesmen. You learn who drops it (puck) fast. A lot of stuff goes into it.”

Passing on that stuff to Horvat is easy.

Bo Horvat is coming off a 62-per-cent showing in the circle.

His desire to use strength and anticipation has turned around a slow start. He went from winning just 29 per cent of his draws in the second game of this season to 62 per cent Tuesday against Minnesota. The trickle-down effect is a penalty kill that has rocketed to fifth overall and has killed off the last dozen attempts.

“I had to get my timing back and Manny is such a great guy to go to because he scouts every player and he knows exactly what they do,” said Horvat. “It’s going to be tough (Tuesday) against the Ducks, because they have some guys who can really snap the puck back. Vermette is really quick in the dot and Kes is just Kes.

“He’s a competitor and will do anything to win the faceoff and anything he tries to do, I’ll just have to counter that.”





Bo Horvat is a good example of how Manny Malhotra has helped the club’s faceoff percentage go from 30th to seventh. Here’s a comparison of Horvat’s start and recent winning percentage this season:

First five games: 35-29-64-40-41 per cent

Last five games: 62-38-59-52-50 per cent



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Always knew that Manny was going to at least be a key contributor anywhere he went in terms of faceoffs. Whether it is as a coach or player, that's his best attribute. Interesting to note that players have noted that it's hard to win against Kes because he'll just overpower and dominate you any way he can and that's what makes him a great faceoff taker. 

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Or our change is due to Henrik not having a broken hand, Sutter actually in the lineup, Horvat still doing strong and we don't have a plug as a 3rd line center going 35% in the faceoffs like McCann did.  


A healthy roster helps

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Chaput at 54.6% and Gaunce at 50% (both in primarily D zone draws where it's harder to win faceoffs) is  a significant upgrade on McCann's numbers (34.7% as a rookie) last year.


In addition to Henrik and Sutter being healthy.


They now have 5 centers who can conceivably win more draws than they lose.


A lot less pressure on Horvat.

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When it comes to faceoffs I recall what the great Coach Scotty Bowman said about it, I measure our team's intensity by how many draws we win...


I bet these comebacks the Canucks have had this early season are measured there in the faceoff circle playing hard to win the scrambled puck draws.

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