OTTAWA - Mark Messier's mission to increase the Rangers centers' faceoff wins continues, with the Hall of Famer - previously just an occasional on-ice tutor - now dissecting videos in one-on-one sessions with players.
"We looked at some of my faceoffs and clearly, I was bringing my stick too far in one direction or the other," said rookie Derek Stepan, who will center Marian Gaborik and Ruslan Fedotenko Thursday night in the second segment of a home-and-home against the Senators. "It's kind of like playing in the defensive zone. The first several games, you play how you're used to, then it's, 'OK, we fixed that one,' and after a while, you make some more adjustments. I have the tools. I think I'm close."
Consistency is tricky, especially against opponents with different talents and techniques. In Friday's 2-0 victory against the Islanders, Stepan (with a shaky 38.6 overall winning percentage) won seven of eight faceoffs, but against Pittsburgh, "I only had a few draws against [Sidney] Crosby and he undressed me."
Without injured veterans Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal, the Rangers, who finished 21st in the NHL in faceoff percentage last season, have fallen further, tied with the Oilers for 28th at 45.1 percent.
"Mess has really taken a hold of it," coach John Tortorella said. "This is the second day with tape; he's taking centers one by one. It's probably one of the weakest parts of our game. We talk about puck possession. That's puck possession, winning faceoffs."
With only three games between Dec. 19 and Dec. 30, Messier, who was invited earlier in the season by Tortorella to provide hands-on advice in the circles, will increase his video work with Stepan, Brian Boyle (a 47.6 winning percentage), Artem Anisimov (41.5) and Erik Christensen (48.2). Sean Avery also took draws against Brandon Dubinsky Wednesday.
"I've been doing better lately," said Boyle, who had a stretch of five games of 50 percent or better. "It's a matter of getting my stick in the right position on the dot. I don't want to change things too much."
Notes & quotes: Before practice, a number of players spent more than 30 minutes on the power play and 5-on-3s. The Rangers were 0-for-4 in the 3-1 loss to the Senators on Sunday. "It hasn't been great sitting on it for two days," Tortorella said. "It was a winnable game and we didn't get it done. Our puck handling and passing, especially early, was brutal."