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Penguins looking to fix their faceoff

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

DETROIT - The Penguins' chances in the Stanley Cup Final aren't as simple as winning or losing the draw, but there is cause for concern after the Detroit Red Wings scored their go-ahead goal in Game 1 and their game-tying goal of Game 2 just moments after faceoffs.

The Penguins are nearly splitting their draws for the playoffs. However, since winning 55.7 percent in the first-round series against Philadelphia, they have won only 45.9 percent in the past 13 playoffs games. Worse yet, the Penguins went from plus-44 to minus-19 on faceoffs this post-season, a 63-point swing in margin of victories on the draw.

"We've done a good job, I thought, in the faceoff circle besides (Saturday) night," said Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby, noting that the home team typically has an edge because its players put their stick down second. "We've got to improve there. They've got some good centermen, but we've got to find ways to get pucks in our possession a bit more. That's an important part of the game, an area we'll work on.

"We can't lose that many. We have to find a way to be better."

The Penguins' struggles in the circle reached a low in Game 1, when Detroit won an eye-popping 39-of-55 draws (71 percent). The Penguins showed signs of improvement in Game 2, when they won 27 of 51 (53 percent) of the faceoffs, including 9 of 16 (56 percent) in the first period.

That the Red Wings have an edge in the faceoff battle should come as no surprise. They won the draws in five of the six games of the Cup Final last year, as well as both meetings during this past regular season.

Just never by such a wide margin.

"We try to focus on it because we think having the puck is way more fun than chasing the puck," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "In this series, in particular, with the skill (the Penguins) have, you don't want them to have the puck."

What's worse, the Red Wings have scored a pair of pivotal goals after winning draws in their offensive zone following icing calls.

The first came in Game 1 after Penguins defenseman Hal Gill missed Chris Kunitz with a pass, prompting Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to call a timeout. The Wings won the draw, and Johan Franzen scored for a 2-1 lead. The second came in Game 2, after Detroit's Darren Helm won a faceoff against Maxime Talbot, setting up defenseman Jonathan Ericsson's goal to tie the game at 1-1.

Helm, a checking-line center, understands the importance of winning the faceoff and has done his share to help Detroit by winning 73 percent (11 of 15) of his draws in Game 1 and 65 percent (11 of 17) in Game 2.

"We take that kind of angle on every team, that we want to be dominant in the faceoff circle and hold onto the puck," Helm said. "It's such a key area of the game. It's so important to win the faceoff and have the puck instead of chasing. It's always an advantage when you win draws."

Playing for the draw

How the Penguins have fared on faceoffs in the playoffs:

Opponent — Faceoffs/Pct.

Philadelphia — 216-17 255.7

Washington — 187-23 344.5

Carolina — 124-12 150.6

Detroit — 43-6 340.6

Totals — 570-589/49.2

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