As of this writing, the Montréal Canadiens are leading the NHL in faceoff percentage, with a 54.7% win rate. Last season they finished 17th overall at 49.6%, and recently, this has been the trend for the team, to be average at best.
Amazing the change in one season. Fans used to say we should hire Yanic Perreault as the faceoff coach, but instead the acquisition of unrestricted free agent Manny Malhotra apparently has done the trick. His steady veteran presence and leadership, his speed and size, his superb defensive play were all thought to be an upgrade on last year's incumbents at fourth-line centre Ryan White and Daniel Brière. It was also thought that he'd relieve some of the responsibilities and corresponding wear and tear on Tomas Plekanec.
Oh, and we thought he might help on faceoffs too. Has he ever. He leads the NHL with a 61.6%, nearly two points clear of Patrice Bergeron and the rest of the field. And his injection into the Habs' centre corps has played a large role in changing the Canadiens' fortune in the faceoff dot.
One obvious way he may be helping is by giving the guys tips and advice. One thing he said so far this season is that strategy, how you approach them is very important. In some situations he says that he’s not necessarily trying to win the draw, but ensuring that he doesn’t lose it clean. If the other guy has a greater chance of winning, but very little of having a clean draw back to a d-man, he feels that’s preferable, and if it goes that way he’s done his job.
The latest 24CH showed him in the dressing room between periods, as they’re about to head back out on the ice, doing a demonstration of a technique, exaggerated for effect.
Another reason I thought might be involved, and maybe anyone with more expertise on this may chime in, is that now Manny is taking the important faceoffs against the best guy on the other team, it’s not Tomas who gets those all the time now, and there’s a cascade effect. Manny is a beast and he gets a 60% taking on the best in the biz in crucial situations. Tomas now gets many more faceoffs against the #2 or #3 guy on the other side, and his percentage improves by 10 or 12 points against reletively weaker opposition. Same for David and Lars, they’re now going up against comparatively less accomplished faceoff men, and their average has shot up.
So yeah, better info, and more focus on this area, and a domino effect where with Manny our other centres aren’t facing competition as tough as last season, and voilà, we’re strong on the dot now.