The modern sentiment going throughout hockey nowadays, mostly because of an increased focus on analytics, is that faceoffs are not very important for winning games.
Coach Guy Gadowsky respectfully disagrees.
“I think it’s huge,” Gadowsky said. “I know there are some analytics guys who would argue with me but I think it’s big.”
In 2016-17, when Penn State won the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions led the nation in face-offs.
Last season, Penn State was 44th in the nation and barely made it to the NCAA tournament.
This season the Nittany Lions are 5-0-0 in what is the best start in program history, and once again lead the nation in faceoffs.
On Friday against Princeton, the importance of winning from the dot was on display. Penn State won 46 faceoffs, and Princeton only won 21.
The main catalyst for Penn State was Ludvig Larsson, who has been fantastic on the dot so far and went 20-23 against the Tigers.
Captain Chase Berger was also great on faceoffs as well, going 11-15.
Not only did this give Penn State better opportunities in possession throughout the game, but it also took the puck away from a strong Princeton attacking core all night long.
Princeton is headlined by possibly the best forward duo in the country Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner. The two seniors from Ottawa combined for 107 points last year, yet their only offensive production on Friday came from one assist from Veronneau.
A lot of the credit should go to Nittany Lions’ goaltender Peyton Jones, who put in another strong performance, as well as a very improved defensive core. But faceoffs also played a major role in this as well.
“When you’re in the d-zone and you’re winning most of the draws you can kind of anticipate,” defenseman Cole Hults said. “You know where [the puck] is going so you have an edge over the other guy, it really helps the flow of the game.”
Penn State has been impressive from the dot so far this season, winning 63.9 percent of faceoffs, far more than any other team.
This was crucial for Penn State getting the convincing victory over Princeton, and it has been important for the team all season.
While faceoffs might not be the perfect indicator for a team’s ability, it is a major fact for the Nittany Lions with their style of play.
Winning faceoffs really helps Penn State’s shoot first style offense. Getting the puck first means less forechecking and more quick shooting opportunities.
Winning faceoffs in the defensive zone can alleviate the pressure for the defense, especially since the Nittany Lions are relying heavily on young players such as Alex Stevens and Paul DeNaples.
While Larsson has been a welcome presence for Penn State in many aspects, it is his faceoff ability, which continues to be the cornerstone of his skill set.
Larsson could probably win a faceoff in his sleep, and his otherworldly statistics from the dot have given Penn State consistent offensive production.
“How goaltending really helps your statistics of your defense, Ludvig Larsson really helps the mentality of your team,” Gadowsky said. “He’s been great. We can’t overstate that enough. He’s been excellent.”
Larsson has most certainly been excellent for the Nittany Lions so far, and it seems his prowess in faceoffs has resonated across the team, as all the centers are posting good numbers from the dot.
While faceoffs might not be important for the analytics guys, they have certainly elevated the Nittany Lions.