Are the Capitals’ faceoff struggles a mental problem?

Are the Capitals’ faceoff struggles a mental problem? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

There are a lot of reasons why the Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday and faceoffs was undoubtedly one of them.

Faceoffs can be an overvalued stat. Specific faceoffs can be important and in overtime they are critical, but for the most part, the advantage a team gets from having the edge in faceoffs is negligible.

When you win 62-percent, however, that is a different story.

The Caps were blown apart at the faceoff dot on Sunday, losing 37 out of 60 draws for a putrid 38-percent. Pittsburgh scored its second goal of the game right off of a clean faceoff win by Teddy Blueger. The puck came out to the blue line and Cody Ceci threw a puck on net. Brandon Tanev crashed the net immediately off the faceoff and was there to score on the rebound.

“I thought tonight that there was some 50-50 pucks that went, the centerman did hold it up, there’s a scrum in there whether it was power play — which is a chance for offense — or whether it was 5-on-5 — an opportunity to keep things alive and get possession because it is about possession,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.

Bad games can happen, but Sunday’s loss now drops the team down to 46-percent on the season, good for 28th in the league.

Nicklas Backstrom in particular was terrible Sunday winning just two out of 16 faceoffs. For his career, Backstrom is 50.3-percent on faceoffs, but he is in the midst of his worst season in the NHL at just 40.4-percent.

After the game, Backstrom said his struggles on faceoffs are just mental at this point.

“You are trying to switch things up, sometimes you just overthinking stuff,” he said. “It’s the same scenario if you haven’t scored a goal in a while. You are thinking about it too much and that is the same in the faceoff circle. I know, me personally, I got to be better there. That is an area that needs to get better and I think it is more mentally than anything else so hopefully it will come.”

It has to because help probably is not coming from outside the organization.

Even if general manager Brian MacLellan wanted to, Washington has no cap room to make a trade for a faceoff specialist. They can’t even bank cap space this year because they have players on LTIR and, by rule, you can’t bank cap space when you’re over the ceiling due to LTIR. Judging by how much depth MacLellan added in the offseason plus how much the team has tested that depth already, I doubt there is any area of the roster that MacLellan views to be “surplus” and worth trading away for extra cap space.

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The four centers the team has now — Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd — are most likely going to be the team’s four centers the rest of the 2021 season and postseason, barring injury. It’s on those four then to get better on faceoffs and to try to avoid having any repeats of what we saw on Sunday.

On the NBC broadcast, the analysts said part of the role of the newly hired player development coach, Michael Peca, will be to help with faceoffs.

Peca, a two-time Selke Award winner, played most of his career at a time in which faceoff stats were not kept. In the two seasons in which those stats were kept, Peca won 51.4-percent of his faceoffs.

Beyond Peca, however, it is something that will just take more practice to improve on. The players just have to buy in.

Said Laviolette, “We’re going to continue to work at it and watch more video when we get the opportunity in practice, just work at it, see if we can’t become more efficient.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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