The San Jose Sharks’ cult of faceoff aces

Prior to Todd McLellan's arrival in San Jose, the Sharks were a mediocre faceoff team. They hadn't been top five in the category clubs even once in the past decade, and most years, they were in the bottom 10. However, beginning in 2008-09, McLellan's first season behind the bench, the Sharks skyrocketed to the top of the statistic.

They've hovered there ever since. Last year, they were second only to the Vancouver Canucks in faceoffs. The two years prior, they were first.

Three seasons at the top is no fluke. Todd McLellan's Sharks care very much about faceoffs.

It's remarkable, then, that, in Friday night's match between the San Jose Sharks and the New Jersey Devils, Joe Pavelski didn't take a single faceoff, especially since Joe Thornton, his linemate, took a whopping 30. Clearly, there were plenty of opportunities to get Pavelski into the circle.

(Granted, I'd send Thornton out for every freaking faceoff too if he were winning a league-best 65 percent of them. But still, that's a lot of draws. To put Thornton's 30 in perspective, consider that he's taken 90 draws through the season's first five games, meaning one-third of his season total came versus the Devils Friday night.)

But no draws for Joe Pavelski, which is simply amazing to me, especially since Joe Pavelski was one of the 25 best faceoff men in the NHL last season.

Pavelski's won 53.4 percent of his draws in 2010-11, only one percentage point behind Joe Thornton for tops on the Sharks. He took 1,020 faceoffs, second only to Joe Thornton's 1,240. As I said above, the Sharks were one of the league's best faceoff teams, and Pavelski was a pretty integral part of their success in the circle.

And he didn't take a single draw Friday night.

How is it possible that a coach that cares so much about faceoffs wouldn't utilize his second best guy even once? Granted, Pavelski was playing on the wing Friday, but still -- not a single draw? How does McLellan justify that?

Simply put: He's got other guys.

The Sharks aren't a team that has some guys who are good at faceoffs. This is a team strength, and I don't think we talk enough about it.

Besides Thornton and Pavelski, the Sharks have three other guys that won more faceoffs than they lost last year. In his rookie season, Logan Couture won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs. Patrick Marleau won 52.4 percent of the time. Michal Handzus won 51.7 percent of the time, but that was with the Kings.

With San Jose, he's improved to an early season percentage of 60 percent, proving the Sharks don't just employ quality faceoff men, they develop them. Handzus has joined a faceoff cult.

The season is young, but the Sharks are already at the top of the league in faceoffs, a full three percentage points clear of the second-place Colorado Avalanche at 57.4 percent.

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