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The Daily Chum: Why faceoffs aren’t as important as you think

It’s counterintuitive at first, but it makes sense.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You might have heard the Sharks aren’t doing so well in the faceoff department. Heading into Thursday night’s tilt with the Columbus Blue Jackets (I know, writing a post before a game? So tacky) the Sharks sat dead last with a 42.3 faceoff percentage. That’s not good — but it’s not nearly as important as you might think, even if you’re a fan of possession statistics.

The logic behind the defense of faceoffs is actually pretty sound. If you win the puck off the draw, you’ll control it and have possession, right? If the goal is puck possession (in so much as possession leads to shots on goal obviously) then faceoffs should be extremely important.

But the numbers don’t support that view. Sometimes common sense isn’t as sensible as we might think. This is a great example of it because while the Sharks are the worst faceoff team in the NHL, they’re currently the best possession team according to (FF%).

How can that be? Well, faceoffs are a pretty small part of the game, for one. The Sharks average about 60 faceoffs a game through seven contests, so about one per minute, which might sound like a lot but really isn’t when you consider how many other events take place in a game. Things like zone entries and exits are vastly more important for establishing possession than faceoffs.

You can cry small sample size on the dissonance between the Sharks’ possession and faceoff numbers this season if you want, but that would be ignoring a much wider body of work on this subject. The person saying faceoffs are imperative to a team’s success is probably also trying to tell you that hits are desperately important. Neither of those things are true and you can usually tell this because instead of defending their points, they’ll lash out with personal attacks or some sort of cliche.

Media members, coaches and fans rolling with crappy stats isn’t anything new and quite frankly I don’t have any interest in the on going “war on stats.” So let’s keep it to what’s actually relevant to us as fans of the San Jose Sharks:

Yes, the Sharks have struggled in the faceoff circle this year. It’s probably too early to be concerned about that. Even if the Sharks are a bad faceoff team now (I doubt it), it will probably not have a negative impact on San Jose’s play this season. So when someone tries to slip in a sweet burn on the Sharks by saying they don’t win faceoffs, you can counter by saying something equally relevant like “the Sharks lead in beard oil per 60 minutes.”