SUNRISE, Fla. – There’s no shortage of praise to be passed around the Florida Panthers power play.
With a 1-for-5 night against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, Florida’s man advantage finished with at least one goal for the 17th time in its last 18 contests. In that span, they’ve converted on 23 of 68 (33.8 percent) of their opportunities, climbing all the way from 24th to fifth in the NHL at 26.9 percent overall.
Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov have been leading the way in the scoring department, each blasting a team-leading six goals with the extra attacker, while defenseman Keith Yandle continues to produce as one of the league’s most-effective power-play quarterbacks, compiling a league-leading 17 points.
“For all of us, it’s kind of a thing where we’re all shooting a little more rather than trying to make that extra pass,” said Yandle, who leads the team with 32 shots on the power play. “I think Huby [Jonathan Huberdeau] and myself are pass-first guys, and Barky [Aleksander Barkov] as well. Then you’ve got Hoff and Daddy, who are probably shot-first guys. I think there’s a good balance of both traits.”
While all of those offensive weapons combining to create quite a lethal attack, it’s important to remember that none of that is possible if the team doesn’t have the puck to begin with, which is where Barkov and his 64.2 winning percentage in the faceoff circle when the extra attacker is on the ice comes into play.
By Yandle’s estimation, a faceoff win on the power play realistically buys more than 15-20 seconds of time on attack. However, that number can balloon even further if the team is unable to re-enter the zone after losing a draw. A win can also directly result in a goal, as evidenced in the video clip below.
“When you win the faceoff you can set up your plays, you can get into your spots,” Yandle said. “Obviously Barky does an amazing job everywhere on the ice, but especially in the faceoff circle… He can win faceoffs whether they’re on his strong hand or his off-side. He does a great job of that. You’ve also got to give credit to the wings that help out on 50-50 pucks.”
After making it a focus in recent years, Barkov is winning a career-high 54.3 percent of his faceoffs this season. His 659 total draws are more than the team’s next two highest skaters – Vincent Trocheck and Jared McCann – combined, while his 24.4 faceoffs per game are second to only Vancouver’s Bo Horvat.
Barkov credits Panthers assistant coach Paul McFarland for helping with his development in the dot.
“The last two seasons I’ve been working on the faceoffs a lot,” Barkov said. “When you start with the puck, it’s way easier to play hockey. You’re not running around and chasing the puck. McFarland helped me a lot with the faceoffs. He shows me faceoffs before every game and we try to work on them in practice. I try to include that in my summer training, too. I work on those moments, muscles, everything, so I can win faceoffs. As a center, it’s a big part of my game.”
Before every game, Barkov said he spends about a minute with McFarland reviewing opposing centers’ tendencies in the faceoff circle on an iPad. At times, he also gets some refresher courses during games.
“We just look at the other team’s centers, what they do in the faceoffs and what will work against them,” said Barkov, who also has 10 goals and 26 points in 27 games this season. “I look to see if I need to go backhand or forehand, fast or strong, all those things. Even in a game, if I’m not there, he tells me how to adjust and stuff like that.”
With Barkov leading the way, Florida is currently tied with Carolina for the most faceoff wins on the power play this season with 108, winning 57.1 percent of those draws. The 23-year-old’s 58 face-off wins on the power play are also second to only Chicago’s Jonathan Toews’ 63 for the most in the league.
Already the NHL’s leader in takeaways (46), penalties drawn (20) and penalty differential (plus-20), while also ranking first among the league’s forwards in average ice time (23:00), Barkov’s work in the faceoff circle this season, most notably on the power play, should add to his growing Selke Trophy resume.
“It’s the biggest stat, I think,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of Barkov’s ability to win draws with the man advantage. “I tell people how good he’s been in in the power-play faceoff circle. You’re starting with the puck, number one, so that’s huge. Two, when we do get a shot on net, we’re retrieving it and getting it back. We’re not chasing it 200-feet down the ice. So that’s important, the retrievals. Three, I think, it’s just the confidence. The guys feel good about themselves. They’re zipping it around.”