In the Circle

by Ryan

It’s hard to find photos of players taking faceoffs.

They don’t look cool or make the newspapers, but winning in the circle is an important part of the game. This year it’s been easy to praise Paul Gaustad for his faceoff proficiency. At 61.2% he is among the league leaders in faceoff win percentage, but not often is it pointed out that the Sabres are pretty awful overall when it comes to the faceoff dot. Buffalo is 24th in the league with just 48.3% wins.

Less than a 50% chance in the circle is not good news, but looking at the team stats it’s easy to see the numbers for what they are. After Goose there is a severe drop in efficiency in the circle, and the centers are pretty terrible in general. Stafford, MacArthur, and Ellis have taken a number of faceoffs as wingers with fairly successful results, but the centers are really the ones dragging the numbers down.

Tim Kennedy is the worst in this regard, with almost 300 draws taken and a 34.9% win rate. As a center slowly moving up the depth chart, that’s downright terrible. Kennedy is a converted winger playing in his first NHL season so it’s easy to excuse the effort, but he as he plays more and more he needs to improve. Playing on a line with the team’s best forward (Vanek) means Kennedy needs to get better on the draw, especially if that line combination is going to stick.

Another player I feel should be better in the circle but isn’t is Tim Connolly. His ability to dangle seems effortless, and the same can be said for when he wins draws, but 43.8 percent isn’t cutting it. Everything about Timmy is so smooth, including his faceoff move, but he clearly isn’t getting the puck to the point like he should. As our 1A center, that’s hurting the team in key situations and if, God forbid, he has to take a draw on the power play.

There’s not much point to this post, but I was surprised to see the Sabres sit so low despite Goose’s contributions. It only shows how important Gaustad is to the team, and how much he was missed when he was hurt earlier in the season. What’s interesting about faceoffs and this “problem” is that it can get better. Gaustad has worked on his faceoffs constantly since entering the league, and if Kennedy does the same he will get much better. Kennedy is still learning how to be a center, and the quality of competition in the circle has only improved since the season started.

Still, having limited options in the circle is cause for concern. Losing a faceoff effects every special teams situation imaginable, and late in the game down a goal you can’t expect Gaustad to be out there. The Sabres need to see improvement in the circle from its centers, otherwise we may see Darcy go out looking for help at the deadline.

Faceoffs aren’t everything, but they are something the team has struggled with all year. Given the standings, now is the time to start looking at the little things the Sabres can get better at. It’s an odd luxury to have, but I’m certainly not complaining.