TORONTO – About this faceoff problem.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant was generally positive about his team’s performance in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena, and insisted that the licking his team took in the faceoff circle – winning just nine of 46 attempts – was not a big issue.
"The last month, I think if we go back into our stats before tonight, I think we're 12th or 13th in the league, so it wasn't a big, big emphasis on it,’’ Gallant said. "I mean, when you hit one bad night like tonight, you get a little pissed off, but a there's not an issue.’’
But Ryan Strome, who had a dreadful night at the dots, losing 12 of 13 faceoffs, thought it was.
"It's frustrating,’’ said Strome, a Toronto native who had about 100 family members and friends in attendance at the game. "You have nights when your timing’s off, and your confidence is off, and I think when we're putting so much emphasis on it, sometimes it gets in your head a little bit. Maybe we just need to clean the slate and be better on Sunday [against Buffalo at Madison Square Garden].
"I know all our guys take a lot of pride in it,’’ he said. "It’s something we've been working extremely hard on, so it's frustrating when you see those numbers. and I just think, like, if you look at the game, it's 2-1, and they start with the puck 80% of the time, 75% of time. It's hard to play against a team like that. They've got some great players who are going to make plays, So something we clean up, myself included.’’
The Rangers have been one of the weaker teams at faceoffs for the past several years. Entering Friday’s games, they were second-to-last in the league in faceoffs, winning at a 45.6% clip. Only Buffalo (44%) was worse. Toronto, on the other hand, was tied for first with Calgary at 55.2% in faceoffs.
Mika Zibanejad, who had a much better night in the circle (4-for-6) than Strome, echoed some of the things Strome said, particularly when it came to the mental part of taking draws.
"When there's a lot of talk, since day one of training camp [about faceoffs], and I think it's being more focused on now from everyone… I think that could get into your head,’’ Zibanejad said. "We've gone through every little detail to face off and I think that kind of gets to you sometimes. Instead of just going in there, and trying to just -- plain and simple -- win it, I think there's a lot of things that you're thinking of when you do it. And then you might be half-a-second late, you might read the faceoff wrong, and that's enough, especially when you go against guys that are good.’’
Gallant, though, preferred to focus on the positive, noting the Rangers played well in defeat. He was much less angry about the loss than he has been after some games the Rangers won.
"We played the right way,’’ he insisted. "If we play this way, we're gonna win a lot of hockey games.’’