Who are the other best clutch faceoff takers in the NHL?
It is one of the most dramatic moments in hockey. Less than a minute on the clock, the two teams only a goal apart, they meet for a faceoff in the leading team’s defensive zone. It’s a make or break draw: if the trailing team wins it they will get one last shot at tying the game, while losing the draw could mean their opponents running out the clock.
Coaches already know who they want out on the ice to take the draw, the center who is most likely to win it under pressure. Whether that player is even on the ice with his regular line is irrelevant. In fact, the Montreal Canadiens once used Manny Malhotra almost exclusively for big defensive zone faceoffs. Once he won, he would rush to the bench for a change.
Not every faceoff is created equal, and it serves a team well to have a player who can win draws when the pressure is on. Here is a list of the best clutch faceoff takers in the NHL.
PATRICE BERGERON – Boston Bruins
GP: 833 Close FOW%: 58.8
No real surprises here, as Bergeron is among the best defensive forwards in NHL history. That has translated to the faceoff circle, where Bergeron has the most draws won in close situations (defined as winning or losing by one goal in the first two periods, or tied in the third period) among active players since the league started tracking the statistic. He leads the next best player, Claude Giroux, by more than 300 wins in that category.
In fact, only Joe Thornton has more faceoff wins among active players in the NHL, and Bergeron should soon reach the 10,000 mark. He is also among the league’s best at defensive zone faceoffs, with a win percentage of 58.3.
Somehow, Bergeron is even better at faceoffs in the playoffs, with a win percentage of 60.
JONATHAN TOEWS – Chicago Blackhawks
GP: 661 Close FOW%: 57.1
Another one of the NHL’s premier defensive forwards, Toews is incredibly difficult to beat at faceoffs. Of active players who have taken at least 100 career faceoffs, nobody in the league has had a higher career win percentage than Toews, who has won 57.2 percent. That dips only slightly in close situations to 57.1 percent.
Toews is particularly effective on special teams, winning 63.7 percent of faceoffs he takes on the power play. He is also among the league’s best at shorthanded faceoffs, making him ideal when the Hawks need a big draw won.
Toews is a rare example of a player who was good at faceoffs as a rookie. Only seven other rookies who took at least 500 faceoffs in their first NHL season have had a faceoff percentage of more than 50 percent since the lockout.
ANTOINE VERMETTE – Anaheim Ducks
GP: 926 Close FOW %: 57.1
The Anaheim Ducks are currently the best faceoff team in the NHL, and that is no surprise considering how Vermette has performed at the dot this season. The 34-year-old veteran leads all players who have taken at least 50 faceoffs so far this year with a 65.4 win percentage.
That’s likely to regress, but considering Vermette’s career numbers it shouldn’t come down too much. He wins them when they count too, as aside from Bergeron, nobody who takes faceoffs consistently has a better win percentage in close games than Vermette.
JAY BEAGLE – Washington Capitals
GP: 325 Close FOW %: 56.3
Having played just over 300 NHL games, Beagle has not taken nearly as many draws as the other players on this list. But under pressure there are few better than the Caps pivot.
While his Capitals team often takes heat for underachieving in the playoffs, Beagle has certainly been doing his part at the faceoff circle. Only four active players who have taken at least 100 playoff faceoffs have a better win percentage than Beagle’s 57.1.
Beagle is particularly important to the Capitals when considering the fact that the team has been below a 50 percent faceoff percentage two of the past three seasons.
CLAUDE GIROUX – Philadelphia Flyers
GP: 590 Close FOW%: 54.4
The Flyer’s captain isn’t quite as effective in close situations as other players on this list, but he certainly makes up for it in a big way. Nobody in the league is better at faceoffs in the defensive zone, where Giroux has a 58.6 percent win percentage.
He also thrives in shorthanded faceoff situations, winning 54.4 percent, the best of any player who consistently takes draws while down a man.
If there is any major flaw in Giroux’s ability as a clutch faceoff taker, it is that his faceoff percentage dips significantly in the playoffs. During the Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 2010, Giroux had a dismal 43.8 percent faceoff win percentage.