The Penguins are intrigued by the NHL’s new faceoff rules
In a never-ending quest to boost offensive numbers, the NHL annually tinkers with the rules and regulations during the offseason.
One year, the league lessened the depth of the net to give attacking players more room behind the cage to create scoring chances.
Another year, it was decreed teams could no longer call a timeout after an icing infraction in order to rest up before an ensuing defensive zone faceoff.
And seemingly every other year, the NHL finds ways to limit the equipment of those whose primary responsibility is to prevent goals. There are plenty of grumpy goaltenders who grimace over the notion of losing a inch of protection on shoulder or leg pads.
The changes are usually incremental and not saltatorial.
This year’s rules alterations in the name of offense are no different. They are mundane on the surface but one does appear to have intrigued the Penguins, particularly the centers.
This season, attacking teams can choose which circle of the offensive zone to conduct a faceoff after four specific scenarios:
• Following an icing.
• The start of a power play.
• When a goaltender freezes a puck on a shot from outside the center red line.
• When a defensive player unintentionally dislodges a net.
“It’s good. I like it,” Jared McCann, a center who moonlights as a left winger, said. “Obviously, it helps in sort of creating some more offense for us. Obviously, being on your strong side, you prefer that. I feel it’s a good rule.
“As a center, I like it,” Nick Bjugstad, projected to be the Penguins’ No. 3 center, said. “If you can pick the side in the offensive zone, preferably when the (defending) team is tired after an icing, that’s ideal. So you’ve got to put emphasis on it as a center. Make sure you’re bearing down. Know who you’re going up against because sometimes you’re better on one side though it might be a different handed player. It depends on the whole situations.”
The situation which might benefit the Penguins the most is with their usually potent power play. Last season, they won 56.9% of faceoffs on the man advantage, third-best in the league.
Left-handed Sidney Crosby took the vast majority of those (309) and won 62.5% of those draws.
The Penguins have adjusted the new rule change this preseason and have given their centers the freedom to pick which circle they want to take the draw in.
“I think the referees and the respective teams are still trying to figure out what’s the best process to keep the game moving and allow for that new rule to take place,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We feel like we have a veteran group of veteran center icemen, so we’re leaving that decision in the hands of the center icemen to decide based on where he thinks he has the most competitive advantage. “
Teddy Blueger, one of the least experienced players on the roster, is the most seasoned member of his team with regards to the rule. The AHL, which usually serves as a “proving ground” for potential rule changes in the NHL, allowed centers to pick the circle for those scenarios last season. Blueger spent most of the 2018-19 season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
“We had that last year in Wilkes-Barre last year for our power play and stuff,” Blueger, projected to be the Penguins’ No. 4 center, said. “I think it’s good. On the power play, it’s for sure helpful.”
What’s always helpful is having centers who shoot or take faceoffs with different strong hands. While Blueger, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and McCann are all left-handed, Bjugstad is the only right-handed center on the NHL roster.
“It’s real valuable because most guys are better at pulling the puck to their backhands than their forehands,” Sullivan said. “It’s not easy to win faceoffs on your forehand side. So if you have righties and lefties, it can certainly help us situationally depending on which side of the rink the faceoff is on. Whether it’s a big faceoff late in the game or a power-play faceoff or a penalty kill faceoff, having the ability to have lefties and righties is certainly a luxury. “
As one might imagine, the rule change is more enjoyable for the attacking center than it is the defensive center.
“Off an icing, it can be tough,” Blueger said. “If you’re tired, you have to go on your weak side there. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out this year.”
Scoring records aren’t expected to be re-written this season as a result of this changes. But it is designed to add a little more offense to a league which has gradually tried to make goals easier to score over the past decade-plus. This change will make attention to details on faceoffs all that more paramount.
“You’ve got to learn to bear down on it a lot of times,” said Bjugstad. “It’s who’s getting the puck quicker, who’s lower, who’s being stronger that night. Some nights it just clicking and some night’s it not. So you’ve got to find out what you’re best at.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .