Why faceoffs cost the Caps in both losses to Pittsburgh originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Faceoffs are not why the Capitals lost both of their games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they certainly were a factor.
After seeing his team get obliterated at the faceoff dot on Tuesday winning only 37-percent of the draws, head coach Peter Laviolette said it was an area of the game in which the team must improve.
"It’s something that we’ve got to get better at, especially in the overtime," Laviolette said.
There are those who swear by the importance of the faceoff and others who dismiss its importance entirely. For me personally, I fall closer to the latter opinion. The Capitals, after all, only won 49.1-percent of their faceoffs in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
But there is one situation in a game in which faceoffs are absolutely critical and that is overtime. In a 3-on-3 overtime, establishing possession is critical and that is a lot harder to do when you can't win a faceoff.
"The possession is so big on the 3-on-3," Laviolette said. "It puts the puck in your play and you can’t check and press like you can 5-on-5 because there’s so much open ice, so you find yourself just playing way too much defense and you don’t get on the attack offensively."
That was certainly the case on Tuesday as Washington lost both draws in overtime then watched as the Penguins maintained possession leading eventually to Sidney Crosby's game-winner.
If you add in the stats from Sunday's game as well, the Caps lost all four faceoffs in overtime to Pittsburgh. They did not win a single one.
It may not have led to an overtime goal on Sunday as that game went to a shootout, but it kept the puck out of the hands of the Caps' playmakers like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. Washington was forced to wait and react for almost the entire five minutes and had very few offensive opportunities to try to get the win.
The faceoffs may not have directly caused the Caps to lose that game, but it certainly did not allow them a chance to win it once it got to overtime.
"The faceoffs are so important," Laviolette said following Sunday's game. "When you lose them, it's possession. Sometimes you don't get it back for 30 seconds, 45 seconds or a minute."
Through just four games, the Caps rank 26th in the NHL on the faceoff at 45.3-percent. The most important stat, however, is 0. That's their win percentage in overtime and that's where the faceoff matters. If they don't improve there, then Washington is going to find it very hard to win any games in overtime this season.