Puck possession is a huge factor in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The team that has the puck more often is more likely to score and is less likely to be scored upon. With that in mind, here is a breakdown of the top-5 New York Rangers centers, the top-5 Capitals centers, and how they fared against each other in the regular season.
The top four Capitals centermen in these playoffs are Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, and Matt Hendricks. Marcus Johansson was the Capitals' #2 center in total faceoffs in the regular season and took the third-most draws against the Rangers this season. Jeff Halpern was the Capitals' #1 faceoff man by effectiveness in the regular season and took 27 faceoffs against the Rangers, but he has not played since March 23 and will not be included in this analysis. The Capitals were the #5 team in the first round of the NHL playoffs with a 51.1% rate of effectiveness in the faceoff circle; this success came against the Boston Bruins, the top regular-season faceoff team.
If healthy, the top-five Rangers centers the Capitals should expect to face in the playoffs are Brad Richards, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov. As a team, the Rangers have not fared well in the faceoff circle this season, and the Capitals have fared well against them in the four games. The Rangers ranked 15th of 16 playoff teams in the first round with a 45.6% success rate.
In the regular season series, the Rangers won the faceoff battle in 3 of 4 games, and won 54.6% of the 216 faceoffs overall. In the regular season as a team, the Capitals and Rangers were dead even at 50.0% on faceoffs, ranking 17th and 18th in the NHL, respectively. In the first round, Washington had success against Boston as the road team while the Rangers struggled against the 16th ranked team from the regular season (Ottawa, 50.2%) even with home ice advantage. This, coupled with injuries to Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky, means the Rangers could be at a huge disadvantage in puck possession in this series.
Backstrom faces off with Richards (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The Capitals' and Rangers' top five faceoff men are listed below along with their faceoff totals from the regular season and playoffs:
|Brooks Laich||664||1394||47.6%||53||121||43.8%||Brad Richards||682||1316||51.8%||69||137||50.4%|
|Marcus Johansson||307||710||43.2%||10||20||50.0%||Brian Boyle||629||1215||51.8%||47||110||42.7%|
|Nicklas Backstrom||353||691||51.1%||63||121||52.1%||Derek Stepan||386||867||44.5%||21||58||36.2%|
|Matt Hendricks||142||265||53.6%||19||46||41.3%||Brandon Dubinsky||205||395||51.9%||20||40||50.0%|
|Jay Beagle||124||215||57.7%||60||96||62.5%||Artem Anisimov||161||345||46.7%||12||29||41.4%|
Left-handed Brooks Laich (6'2, 200) took the most draws against the Rangers this season. His season numbers against the Rangers' centers were weak with the exception of Derek Stepan. Laich finished the regular season 14th in the league in total faceoffs taken and 72nd in effectiveness.
Left-handed Nicklas Backstrom (6'1, 210) fared reasonably well in heavy duty against the Rangers this season. He missed the February 12 game with injury but still won more draws than any other Caps center in the season series.
Left-handed Marcus Johansson (5'11, 189) is currently playing on the wing, but as centers are thrown out of the faceoff circle, his contributions become more important. He took the third-most faceoffs against the Rangers this season, but took no faceoffs in the final game.
Left-handed Matt Hendricks (6', 211) is a natural center who started taking more faceoffs toward the end of the season. He took no faceoffs in the second game against the Rangers, but he was dead even in the other 3 games.
Right-handed Jay Beagle (6'3, 215) took few faceoffs against the Rangers this season. He missed the first game with an injury and played many games at right wing. As the Capitals' current shut-down center, look for him to take many more draws and build on his 70% success rate against the Rangers in this series.
Here are the Rangers' centers and how they fared against the Capitals this season.
Veteran lefty Brad Richards (6', 195) is on the small side, but that didn't stop him from winning 66% of his faceoffs against the Caps this season.
If left-handed Brian Boyle (6'7, 244) is healthy, he will strike an imposing figure in the faceoff circle. He won nearly 60% of his draws against the Capitals this season.
Sophomore Derek Stepan (6', 190) is a right-handed centerman with the worst faceoff winning percentage against the Caps. He ranked 83rd of 89 centers in the NHL during the regular season.
Left-handed Brandon Dubinsky (6'1, 210) has had the most success against the Capitals this season, but he took no faceoffs in the final game. If he is healthy, he could make up for the absence of Brian Boyle at the dot.
Left-handed Artem Anisimov (6'4, 200) is a lanky centerman who had good success against the Caps in limited duty.