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What The Face-Off: Exploring The Anaheim Anomaly

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While making the playoffs despite not conforming to the majority trend of postseason qualifiers in recent years, Anaheim is an interesting case on the importance of face-offs.

The Ducks haven't let a lack of success in the face-off circle slow their winning ways.
The Ducks haven't let a lack of success in the face-off circle slow their winning ways.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All but one of the Stanley Cup champions since the 2004-05 lockout season have had a specific trait in common inside the face-off circle: they've averaged winning more than half of their draws during the regular season. Also established in the first part of this series, 65.3% of all playoff qualifiers have been better than 50% on the draw during the regular season as well. With the Anaheim Ducks sharing the distinction with the Montreal Canadiens of having the most playoff appearances (four each since the lockout) despite not meeting that standard, it begs the question as to just how the Ducks performance can be viewed when looking through the lens of face-offs.

As always in an article such as this the most important thing to first make clear is that, say it with me, correlation is not causation! As the game of hockey is incredibly complex despite the singular goal of putting a puck in the net more than your opposition, when trying to isolate a single statistic as a means to view a team's success it's necessary and proper to acknowledge that there are multiple other stats that have as much if not more impact on the results of a game than the one being discussed in this column. So while others crunch their Corsis and finagle their Fenwicks, lets delve deeper into the Ducks and their success in reaching the postseason despite not having much on the dot.

First we'll take a look at the raw numbers for the Ducks, drawing full regular seasons worth of data noting the squad's performance in the face-off circle in relation to their wins and losses. For sake of simplicity, both overtime and shootout decisions will be lumped in as part of the overall results; while they're worth an extra point in the standings column, it'd be an added complexity that simply isn't necessary to include as a specific category. As is the case for this series, all data comes post wipeout lockout for means of controlling the variables of rules changes and so forth.

Season W FO% +50 L FO% +50 W FO% -50 L FO% -50 W FO% =50 L FO% =50 Gms FO% +50 Gms FO% -50
2006 24 23 17 15 3 0 47 32
2007 31 25 14 10 2 0 56 24
2008 24 16 21 17 2 2 40 38
2009 25 22 13 17 4 1 47 30
2010 15 10 20 27 4 6 25 47
2011 19 12 29 22 0 0 31 51
2012 9 18 23 29 2 1 27 52
2013 9 4 20 14 1 0 13 34
2014 28 8 24 20 2 0 36 44

The first thing that jumps out is that the Ducks were a strong to solid team in the run up to and next few years after winning the Stanley Cup as far as face-offs go. It's interesting that '10 is the clear line of delineation of when the team started losing the face-off battle in games more regularly than winning it, but it makes sense considering by that time the Ducks has moved on from Andy McDonald and Samuel Pahlsson to the likes of Kyle Chipchura and Andrew Ebbett. It's also apparent that while Saku Koivu was a reliable above 50% performer in the circle, Ryan Getzlaf has remained below water while Nick Bonino and the menagerie of lower line centers shuttled in and out from '11 on haven't been able to replicate the performance surrounding the Cup year. However, when looking at the percentages it makes quite stark the degree to which the Ducks have kept their failings at the dot from impacting their spot in the standings.

Season Games FO% +50 FO% W% FO% +50 W% FO% -50 W% FO% +/=50 W% FO% -/=50
2006 57.3% 50.8% 51.1% 53.1% 54.0% 57.1%
2007 68.3% 51.8% 55.4% 58.3% 56.9% 61.5%
2008 48.8% 50.2% 60.0% 55.3% 59.1% 54.8%
2009 57.3% 49.8% 53.2% 43.3% 55.8% 48.6%
2010 30.5% 48.0% 60.0% 42.6% 54.3% 42.1%
2011 37.8% 47.7% 61.3% 56.9% 61.3% 56.9%
2012 32.9% 47.4% 33.3% 44.2% 36.7% 45.5%
2013 27.1% 47.5% 69.2% 58.8% 71.4% 60.0%
2014 43.9% 49.2% 77.8% 54.6% 78.9% 56.5%

Save for one season where both percentages dipped well below the break even mark, it's remarkable that the Ducks have won the majority of games while losing the face-off battle in all but two other seasons. Another point that pops is the years the Ducks have had their deepest runs in the playoffs, they've also had the highest percentage of games where they got the better of opponents on the drop as well. Since the arrival of Bruce Boudreau, in his two full seasons behind the bench the conversion of winning games in which Anaheim has won at the dot has seen a marked jump as well. With the team winning at near or well over a 70% clip when controlling things in the circle, perhaps it adds additional explanation that while Ryan Kesler (52.6 FO%) replacing Mathieu Perreault (52.7 FO%) is a lateral move, Nate Thompson (50.9 FO%) taking Bonino's (48.8 FO%) lower line spot is an upgrade. An important question is whether Rickard Rakell can stay within the ballpark of Koivu's 50.4% performance in the circle.

While these numbers don't explain how the team has succeeded in spite of their below average performance at the face-off circle, it does give you a greater appreciation as to the degree at which they have. Perhaps it's that winning a greater percentage of face-offs allowed the physical, defense-centric teams of Randy Carlyle to better establish tempo and execute game plan. However that style also clearly lent well to recovery off lost draws, as in every playoff season but one the team won over half the games in which they lost in the circle. It's possible that under a much more open offensive style seen with Boudreau, winning on the dot allows the team to better drive scoring opportunities as evidenced by the team's high winning percentage while controlling the face-off battle. It should be noted as well that the Boudreau teams slot right in with the high end of Carlyle's squads in winning without winning the face-offs, lending statistical backbone to Kid Ish's analysis of the Ducks ability to recover after losing draws.

Attempting to draw some broad conclusions, despite Anaheim's anomalous ability to make the playoffs while winning less than half of the draws during the regular season, their greatest success has come in seasons where they won most in the face-off circle. It speaks volumes that the team's winning percentage in games when winning in the circle has bettered the winning percentage while losing at the dot for six of the nine seasons, and even more that five of the seven playoff seasons share the same trait. Considering in three of the four seasons where the Ducks won a playoff series and both where the team made it to the Conference Final and beyond, the team won the face-off battle in the majority of its regular season games; it appears to be an important piece to the playoff advancement puzzle not only in Anaheim, but around the league as well.

The Ducks should rightfully be lauded for making the playoffs as often as they have, particularly when bucking a majority statistical trend more than anyone else in the Western Conference. With past glory and seeing the local rival now surpass the squad in championship success, it's all the more important to fans to see Anaheim competing at the Stanley Cup level. Perhaps it's an important point in once again ascending to those heights to win more in the face-off circle, so that deeper wins can follow.