NEW YORK - OCTOBER 27: Alexander Burmistrov #8 of the Atlanta Thrashers takes a face off against the New York Rangers on October 27 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Atlanta defeated the Rangers 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It’s hard to get mad at Alexander Burmistrov. After all, he’s a 19 year old kid making the jump from Russia to Canadian juniors to the NHL all the span of three seasons, and what’s more, his enthusiasm & skill are making an impact. He’s played in all 16 games, averaging 14:34 a game - much more active than your average 19-year-old. But there’s just one thing... something I can’t quite... Wait, here it is:
Did you see it? About the :25 mark? That’s Our Boy Burmi, losing a faceoff to Jason Spezza, who sends the puck to Sergei Gonchar, who promptly deposits it behind Chris Mason. But hey, Spezza’s like, 19th in the NHL in face-offs. It’s kind of unfair to expect the kid to go up against that and come out on top. It was a set play, one of those things that teams run in practice, and this time the
SNES Sens got one through. It’s not like it’s happened before, or any...
So, twice. But that can’t be...
(Editors note: It’s hard to catch at the very start of the clip, but Ryan Getzlaf’s goal-scoring sequence began with, you guessed it Burmistrov losing a face-off against Getzlaf.)
Noticing a pattern, I decided to do some digging, and came up with this: looking at Burmi’s faceoff stat line, you’ll find him with a 39.8% win percentage. Not great, but also not awful. Now add in the fact that he’s taking almost a quarter of the teams total draws. Then we’ll throw in the kicker:
It would seem Burmistrov is winning faceoffs in the offensive and neutral zones at quite a clip, averaging about 53%. Then there’s defensive zone. Or, more aptly, the Zone of Death. A 23% win rate is just not good enough. And it’s not like he’s being thrown in there when Rich Peverley gets kicked out of the circle - he’s getting almost as many faceoffs in the defensive zone as the neutral zone. Look at those last six games, the bold-face entries in the above chart: two wins in 22 tries. That's 7%. Seven percent. Also, let’s remember the value of those defensive zone faceoffs. Before last season, the Falconer gave us a post entitled "Faceoffs: Where You Start Matters" - the gist of which is summed up nicely in the following:
Why should we care so much about where a shift starts? As Gabriel Desjardins demonstrates very clearly in this article, the team that wins a faceoff in the offensive zone enjoys an HUGE advantage in the first few seconds after the faceoff. Even if your team WINS the faceoff deep in their defensive zone they are still more likely to allow a shot against then if they LOST a faceoff in the Neutral Zone. In other words, no matter who wins the D Zone faceoff, bad things are likely to happen for the defending team.
Desjardins teases out the causal mechanism:After you lose a faceoff in the neutral zone, you have time to set up defensively and you don’t give up a particularly large number of good scoring opportunities. However, when you lose a faceoff in your own end, opponent shots on goal go up so quickly that it’s as though you gave the other team a 10-15 second power-play. For several seconds, the rate of shots allowed is as high as it is on a 5-on-3. The prospect of this level of defensive disadvantage, particularly late in a one-goal game, must give coaches nightmares.
That is simply staggering when you think about it. If your team losses a D-zone faceoff they are more likely to allow a shot on goal than they would while killing off a 5>3 disadvantage. Holy cow!
Holy cow, indeed. Remember those video clips above? All three were not only defensive zone faceoffs, but penalty kill defensive zone faceoffs. If losing an even-strength faceoff is like giving your opponent 10-15 seconds of a 5-on-3, losing a PK defensive zone faceoff (AKA, PKDZFO) means you pretty much gave them a free shot at the net. Is it any wonder the opposition scored on all three of those plays? Is it any wonder the Thrashers PK is languishing at an anemic 75%? I know Craig Ramsay has an "everybody plays" mentality - on a developing squad, it’s probably a good thing; young players need to get a feel for game situations. Success doesn't happen overnight - even Sidney Crosby had to work out his faceoff kinks. But if you've got playoff aspirations, or if the mandate is simply "win now", you need to make sure you're doing everything you can to make that happen. When you’ve got an Achilles Heel this weak and this obvious that stretches over sixteen games, something has to be done. But what, exactly? It doesn’t seem to be an issue of skill - if it were that simple, Burmi’s FO numbers would be down across the board instead of the 53% he’s averaging everywhere else on the ice. Does it mean Burmi spends some quality time after practice with Pevs, John Torchetti and a bucket of pucks? Maybe. Does it mean more time in the video room, studying guys like Antoine Vermette, Jonathan Toews and Crosby; guys who’ve found consistency at the circle year after year? Couldn’t hurt. At the very least, let's start by not putting Alex Burmistrov in the DZ circle on the penalty kill. Stick Jim Slater in there - he's running 63% overall. Yes, I get it, that kind of pace can't last forever, but who cuts a more imposing figure at the dot: Burmi, or Slater? This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed, and whatever the answer, it needs to happen soon.