With the previous articles talking about breakouts and forechecks, I found this as a rare chance to talk about defensive zone faceoff wins. Faceoffs are a topic of debate in hockey. Looking at faceoff win percentages aren’t going to tell you much at the end of the day because what happens after the faceoff matters far more. In this article, we will look at what the Bruins and Leafs do after defensive zone faceoff wins.
Gabe Desjardins described defensive zone faceoffs as a “dangerous” play in 2011. The logic behind this was that teams generally give up more shots on goal in the next 30 seconds following a defensive zone faceoff win than a neutral zone faceoff loss. Because of this, it is important to get the puck out of the zone, preferably with control, after a defensive zone faceoff win.
Bruce Cassidy knows this, and has prioritized getting the puck out of the zone by sacrificing defensive zone coverage. Traditionally, teams set up for defensive zone faceoffs with the goal of stationing their players in the best position possible for a faceoff loss.
For faceoffs to the right of the goalie, the left-handed defenseman will be in the inside and the right-handed defenseman will be stationed against the boards. The left-handed defenseman and right winger can also switch based on what the team is looking to do after the draw.
The advantage to setting up in this fashion is that the defensemen are already on their strong sides, and should be more comfortable defending. When asked about this in September, Cassidy put this off. Furthermore, there is also better protection of the slot. Cassidy, who is more focused on exiting the zone, is willing to substitute this for his players being in a better position to exit the zone.
When the Bruins are comfortable enough to do this, I feel that putting the strong side winger on the boards is the best option. That winger is supposed to cover the strong side defenseman on a loss anyway, so if the Bruins win the faceoff, he is an immediate threat.
There were two left-handed defensemen on the ice for the Bruins in this case, but the point is made. The occasional stretch play keeps the Leafs honest. There is also a second option that is available, that being the winger in the slot.
This option is probably the best way to control exits, but is also easier to break up. The Bruins can combat this by setting the winger wider.
By setting the winger wider, the Bruins can feel more comfortable using the boards as a backstop. Note that this clip is from the first game of the season. Coaches are obsessed with faceoffs and know that this play is coming. They still have a hard time combating it, but they can force the occasional turnover.
In this formation, the defensemen switch sides. This gives an option for a wheel route for the defenseman on his weak side.
Notice how wide Pastrnak is in the clip above. This play was actually from a preseason game, and I am sure that Bruce Cassidy cringed at the lack of support up ice. However, the wheel option is still available to the Bruins.
Bruce Cassidy’s philosophy seems to be paying off. Against the Maple Leafs this season, the Bruins have controlled the puck out of their zone 32% of the time and successfully exited the zone 64% of the time. Weighing their exits by the likelihood of an entry, the Bruins could expect to enter the offensive zone 34% of the time.
The Maple Leafs are far more traditional than the Bruins. They go behind the net a lot after faceoff wins.
In the clip above, Nazem Kadri wins a puck cleanly for the Leafs. Gardiner has to retrieve the puck, where he is able to move the play over to Zaitsev. He is then able to throw the puck up ice, not controlling an exit, but getting the puck out of the zone effectively.
Here is the exact same play, but with a wheel route instead because of where the faceoff is won. As many people know, the Leafs forwards are going to push up ice immediately. Zaitsev is able to connect the stretch pass this time, leading to an entry and a chance.
The numbers also match up with the eye test. The Leafs only controlled 23% of their exit attempts following a defensive zone faceoff win against the Bruins, but successfully exited the zone on 77% of their attempts.
Although the Leafs exited the zone far more frequently, I believe Bruce Cassidy’s philosophy is much better. When you weigh the exits, the Leafs were only expected to enter the zone 30% of the time, while the Bruins were 34%.
We could go on and on all day about different set plays and options each team has, but I feel like this is a strong overview of what these teams generally do. Each team will make small adjustments throughout the series, and hopefully you can point them out now.