Photo Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
With Predators forward and faceoff specialist Paul Gaustad out since March 12th with an upper body injury, Nashville has had to dig deep to find dependable success in the faceoff circle while Gaustad heals. As usual, the Predators roster finds a way to step up in place of their injured comrades.
Getting contributions from the usual sources of Mike Fisher, David Legwand, and Nick Spaling, the Predators have also seen contributions come from Martin Erat, Colin Wilson, Brandon Yip, and Chris Mueller. While Nashville is finding ways to win games coming down the home stretch, winning faceoffs is an important reason why their doing so.
“It’s really important. Some people go, ‘oh that’s just a faceoff.’ If you start with the puck, especially penalty kill/five-on-five, the game is easier. It’s one of those very important stats, that unless you’re in the business you sort of just blow buy it an go, “eh, he’s just a good faceoff guy, no big deal,” but it’s a huge deal,” says head coach Barry Trotz. “You start with the puck all the time, it gets you out of trouble, it gives you the chance to do something maybe offensively. Late in the game it’s essential.”
With Spaling going 12 for 16 in the faceoff dot Monday against the Oilers, the 24-year-old is doing his share to shoulder the load for the Predators. Although his win percentage for the season stands at 46.2%, having a game like Monday night not only helps the team as a whole, but it acts as a confidence-booster as well.
“I’ve been struggling a bit lately, but it’s been a lot of the other guys that have been really consistent. [Legwand] and [Mueller] have been doing really well in the draws, so it was nice to just have a game like that where you do well,” said Predators forward Nick Spaling.
The Predators have gone seven games without Gaustad, arguably one of the best faceoff men in the entire NHL as he currently ranks second in the league with a 60.7% success rate (graded amongst players with a minimum of 300 faceoffs). Receiving contributions from unexpected sources is one of the many reasons that the Nashville Predators stay so consistent in an ever-changing league.
Mueller, for example, has only been with the team for five games this season. Yet, he’s averaging 10 faceoffs a game and boasts a 65.4% win percentage from the dot (34 faceoff wins, 18 faceoff losses).
“[Mueller's] been taking a lot of important draws and doing well on them. You know what to expect from him, he’s playing a smart detailed game and playing both ways,” said Spaling.
As Nashville’s run to the playoffs continues and Gaustad being closer to returning to the lineup, continual faceoff success will be highly beneficial in the weeks to come. With a three-game win streak on their backs, the Predators are taking the “committee-approach” they are used to having and finding new ways to tweak it for success.