Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, the Kings were expected to have a decided edge in the faceoff circle.
They were tied for second in faceoff percentage during the regular season at 52.8%, while the Rangers were near the bottom of the league at 48.8% which was good for just 22nd.
Before the start of the series, Anze Kopitar had a 54.4% success rate this postseason, while Jarret Stoll was even better at 57%. However, through the first three games Kopitar was at just 48.9%, while Stoll’s dipped to just 54.1%. Jeff Carter actually ticked up from 47.5% in the previous 21 playoff games to 48.6% during Games 1-3 against the Rangers.
Then in Game 4, all three watched their faceoff percentage increase significantly. Kopitar finished the game at 59%, Stoll at 61% and Carter at a ridiculous 71%. Despite the loss, the Kings held a decisive edge in the faceoff circle 63% – 37%.
However, almost all their damage was done in the opening frame…
Kings were 20-4 on faceoffs in first. Kopiitar was 6-0, Stoll 7-1.
— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) June 12, 2014
After Kopitar won the opening draw of the second period, the faceoffs were even the remainder of the way with each team winning 20.
So what happened? Did the Rangers make the proper adjustments during the first intermission? Did the Kings players simply regress to the mean?
Actually, NBC rink side reporter extraordinaire Pierre McGuire gave us some insight during the second period as he noted Rangers players could be heard complaining to the refs that the Kings centers weren’t placing their sticks on the ice at the faceoff dot before the puck was dropped by the linesman.
As you can see in this screen grab, Kopitar clearly has his stick blade in the air, while Derek Stepan’s remains on the ice before the linesman releases the puck.
According to Rule 76.4, the sticks of both players facing-off shall have the blade on the ice, within the designated white area. The visiting player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the home player. Rule 76.6 adds that the blade of the stick must remain on the ice until the puck is dropped. By having your stick in the air, a player is able to track the puck out of the linesman’s hand better with their stick blade while creating momentum to pull the puck backward or push it forward.
While all four Kings center icemen (Mike Richards as well) were using this illegal technique to their advantage in the first period, apparently Stoll is notorious for utilizing a quick stick tap up and down to be in motion when the linesman releases the puck, which is a faceoff violation. Here’s a faceoff tutorial Stoll gave six years ago as a member of the Oilers in which you can see the stick tap move perfectly.
Listen, I’m not naive to think the Kings are the only team that cheats at the red dot, as any great faceoff man will tell you he tries to push the limits of the rules as often as possible. Even Brian Boyle has admitted taking faceoffs is all about seeing “how much you can get away with.”
But when a team has such a decisive advantage, the way the Kings did in Game 4, it’s dependent upon to the referees to make sure the rules are being enforced. Unfortunately, the linesmen continued to ignore the rules Wednesday night forcing the Rangers to make sure the faceoff circle was being officiated properly by verbally expressing their displeasure.
I know this may seem trivial to some of you, especially in a game that the Rangers were victorious, but I think we can all agree that the Kings carried a large majority of the play Wednesday night. The Kings, whose success is predicated on puck possession (#1 team in regular season), crushed the Rangers in Corsi % (shot attempts for vs. against) 59.7% to 40.3% in Game 4. And the biggest reason for the discrepancy is faceoffs. The more faceoffs you win, the greater amount of time you have the puck and the better chance you have of winning the game.
Hopefully, McGuire pointing out this incident during the telecast of the game will put tonight’s linesmen on notice that looking the other way when the Kings attempt their faceoff shenanigans will not be tolerated.
…not a shock that O’Halloran and McCauley were the officials disregarding the Kings illegal faceoff practice after they ignored the Dwight King bump on Henrik Lundqvist in Game 2.