ANAHEIM, Calif. – If the Stanley Cup playoffs began today, the Wild would face the Anaheim Ducks, tonight’s opponent and owner of the NHL’s best record.
If the Stanley Cup playoffs began today, the Wild would have to improve its ability to win faceoffs dramatically to have a chance.
The Wild’s success on draws plummeted after Mikko Koivu broke his right ankle Jan. 4., one day after Zenon Konopka was claimed by the Buffalo Sabres on waivers.
Koivu won 55.7 percent of the faceoffs he took before getting injured. Konopka has the NHL’s best faceoff percentage since the 2005-06 season.
Before Jan. 3, the Wild ranked among the NHL’s best five teams in faceoff percentage. Since Jan. 4, the Wild plunged to 10th with a .513 mark.
The losses most affected center Kyle Brodziak, whose season faceoff percentage fell from .502 to .490. Since Koivu’s injury, Brodziak lost 96 of 171 draws — including 15 of 17 in the Wild’s 3-2 overtime loss at San Jose on Saturday night.
“Winning some faceoffs that game definitely would have helped us,” said Wild center Charlie Coyle, who won only five of 18 draws against the Sharks. “We would’ve been able to establish a better forecheck and a better transition going into their zone and making plays.”
In San Jose, the Wild lost 41 of 59 draws to “probably the best faceoff team in the league,” Brodziak said.
“I think it got in their heads a little bit,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said about the struggles on faceoffs. “You have to be able to hit the reset button from game to game and, more importantly, within the game.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost five in a row. That doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the next one. You have to go in with the mind-set that you can’t wait to take that draw.”
Winning those draws requires more than emotional resiliency.
“When you have wingers who help you out, it’s pretty huge,” Coyle said. “Obviously, you can’t always win a clean faceoff. You just have to find a way to get the puck back. It’s a team effort off the bat.”
Knowing your opponent in the circle also plays a pivotal role.
“Some guys are really strong,” Brodziak said. “Some guys are quick; they have good technique. It’s tough to say what style makes somebody good. Everybody’s different.”
Knowing that opponent means devising a plan to react.
“You know what that guy’s tendencies are,” Coyle said. “You’ve got plenty on your mind with what you think he’s going to do. But the biggest part is just to pick a certain way you’re either going to tie him up or win the draw, and just stick to it 100 percent.
“You can’t think you’re doing one thing and do the other, and go halfway. You’ll lose it every time. That’s what I found out. You’ve got to go 100 percent with what you’re doing, whether it’s getting his stick, tying him up or whatever.”
Securing the puck through faceoffs could prove critical against the Ducks, who from Dec. 6 through Jan. 15 became the second team in NHL history to win 18 of 19 games. Only the 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens accomplished that feat previously.
Note: Yeo said Darcy Kuemper will start in goal, and added that Koivu and Jared Spurgeon (foot) remain day-to-day.