Circle Work

Caps center Brooks Laich has been money in the face-off circle thus far this month. In Washington’s seven January games, he has won 69.6% of his draws, the best percentage of all pivots in the NHL during that period. Edmonton’s Jarret Stoll was second on that list coming into Thursday’s game with Washington, but Laich took two of two from Stoll and the Oilers center was just 8-for-20 (40%) on the night.

Goal scorers know when they’re on fire. Goaltenders know when they’re in a zone. But does a face-off guy know when he’s got it going on? I wondered, so I asked Laich if he had any idea he was leading the NHL in January face-off percentage.

“I knew I had been doing well,” he told me, “but a lot of that is that I’ve been playing with Brads and he has won me a lot of face-offs. [So have] Brash and Petty. [Assistant coach] Deano [Evason] has talked about that a lot lately, especially against the better teams. Against teams like Ottawa and Detroit, if we can get possession of the puck off of face-offs, we’re not chasing it as much.

“If you have a good night on face-offs, a lot of it is due to your wingers. Your wingers can make you go to 70% or they can make you go to 30% if they don’t win their battles. But I wasn’t conscious of being the best in the month [of January]. I knew it was something I had to try and improve on. Sometimes you go through hot streaks where you just can’t lose one. Sometimes you battle your butt off and you go 50-50. Hopefully, I’ll keep it going.”

Laich was also asked about his first period boarding penalty against Edmonton. He was in a race for the puck with the Oilers’ Kyle Brodziak on an icing touch-up. His response to the question is fairly illuminating, I thought.

“You know what?” Laich began, “I have no idea. First off, the D-man steps up on Brash so I’m thinking it’s a race for the puck. Secondly, I don’t hear a linesman saying it’s icing. If I finish my check, I get a penalty. If I don’t finish my check and the play isn’t an icing I’ve got a coach screaming at me and I’m getting heck when I get back to the bench. If I can, I’d like to have a linesman telling me, ‘Icing, icing, icing.’ Then I know just to go for the puck.”

Laich certainly wasn’t trying to hammer Brodziak. The two were teammates for a year and a half on the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors.

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5 Comments on “Circle Work”

  1. MikeL Says:

    The imprortance of winning face-offs is critical in all cases, but especially in terms of special teams. Consider that most powerplays begin with the team in the attacking zone. If the defensive team wins the draw, it means that about 15 seconds of the power play will be gone before it even begins, which is 1/8 of the power play.

    That matters.

    Remember in 1997-98 when the Caps had that insane penalty killing (over 90%, allowing only 39 goals in 82 games, along with scoring 14 shorties for a net of 25 PPGA)? The key to that penalty killing was that every face off was against someone who won 55-60% of the time: Oates, Hunter or Nikolishin….

  2. M Says:

    Excellent observation, MikeL.
    BB said that Laich had to get better in the circle. Well, looks like he listened and it looks like his teammates listened too.

  3. Mike L. Says:

    Winning face-offs is vital in terms of winning games. Possession of the puck is how you win, and to gain possession you have to win face-offs.

    If you have the NHL Network, when they show a classic game from the 1960’s or early 1970s, watch how players held the stick on face-offs…now watch how the hold it today. Back then, the stick was held in the usual way when skating by the guys in the circle. Now everyone holds the stick as if they’re cross-checking. The Soviets introduced that style of taking face-offs back in the 1970s, and part of the reason they were so great back then (apart from players like Mikhailov, Tretiak, etc.) was that they would consistently win face-offs, usually at about 55-60%.

    It doesn’t seem like a big difference, but winning 55% vs. 50% in a typical game (70 draws) means you win 38 and lose 32… if those six draws are on the power play, well, that’s 1 1/2 minutes of power play time you’ve kept or killed off…

  4. Tom in FL Says:

    Big home-and-home vs TO coming up. Leafs are reeling and said to be offering Sundin. If you are the Caps, do you offer this year’s #1? If you are Ferguson and the Leafs, do you accept? If you are Sundin, do you take the trade?

    Caps: Make the offer. Sundin can take over as #2 center and you leave Backstrom with OV and Kozzie. And they can afford the $7.6M for a month.

    Leafs: Caps #1 will likely be in the top 18. Sundin is gone after this year. You are going nowhere. Get something while you can.

    Sundin: Play for last place or play with Ovechkin and Backstrom with a chance for the Cup.

    Look, it’s a win-win-win. The deal’s as good as done.

    Easy decision. Now, a hard decision:

    Bruce Boudreau, what do you do with Olie?

    Also, what in GOD’S name happened to Eminger? At least before he was half-decent! Now he looks like the world’s biggest Tentative Tina!

    Can we get a sports psychologist to get this guy’s confidence back? He was a good player in Juniors!

    The defense was TERRIBLE tonight including all six but maybe except Poti and Jurcina and all the forwards except Laing was superb in the overtime.

    Alexander Semin…..the Charles Dickens of NHL forwards….”It was the worst of play, it was the best of play.”

    (Imagine Joe B’s voice):

    “And Semin takes another penalty.”

    “Semin….a giveway….and here come the Penguins…and they score!”

    And on the other side:

    “Semin crosses the blueline…he dipsy-doos…does a curl and drag…fakes the d-man out of his pants…and the goalie out of his pads…he shoots – and scores!”

    “The shootout is tied at one! Semin picks up the puck, skates down the center, flips to his backhand, and scores!!!!!!!!!”

    Really, it must be like being married to Elizabeth Taylor, back in the day….so good – but so bad. If you are George McPhee – if you were Richard Burton – can you take it? Really, how much of it can you take? How much can Boudreau take of Semin? Of Olie? Of Eminger?

    Tune in Wednesday night…same Bat-time…same Bat-channel:

    “Can Ovechkin score ten? Can Backstrom muster twelve assists? Can Poti log 40 minutes of ice time? Can Olie make at least ten saves???????”

    You KNOW it will be exciting.

  5. […] as Laich recently related to us, it’s worth noting that the Caps’ wingers also play an important role in winning […]

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