Finally recovered from hip surgery he underwent in May, Oscar Lindberg hadn’t had a full practice at center before making his season debut for the Rangers on Sunday, when he stepped in for the ailing Chris Kreider.
Lindberg won 134 faceoffs and lost 143 last year (48.4 percent). But against the Coyotes, he won seven of nine draws.
It’s a small sample through six games, but throughout the lineup, the Rangers are on pace to have their best season at the dots since lockout-shortened 2012-13, when they finished at 50 percent.
As of Monday, the Blueshirts were fourth in the NHL in faceoff wins, at 53.4 percent, a noticeable improvement over the past three years. They finished in 23rd place last season, at 49.3 percent. In 2014-15, they were 28th (46.7 percent). In 2013-14, the final percentage was 48.8.
Why the improvement? Personnel change is a factor, but as coach Alain Vigneault has noted, studying specialized video of the tactics and techniques of top players and practicing how to counter opponents is helping.
“During the summer, Arnie [associate coach Scott Arniel] sent all our centermen footage of other faceoff players in the league,” Vigneault said. “He put a very thorough video together, and with the improved video work we have internally, as far as being able to get everybody’s shifts, everybody’s shots, everybody’s faceoffs, we’ve been able to share that information more. And they’re doing their part, the extra homework, watching it before the games, watching the tendencies. It’s like any other sport, usually the more you do, the more you can improve, and that’s sort of what’s happening in that area right now.”
Among the opponents in the hours of footage: the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron (57.1 last season) and David Backes (52.2), and the Flyers’ Claude Giroux (57.1), who are generally among the league leaders.
Two seasons ago, the five Rangers who took the most faceoffs were Dominic Moore (54.5 winning percentage), Derick Brassard (48.8), Derek Stepan (44.1), Kevin Hayes (36.3) and J.T. Miller (44.1).
This season, Moore, 35, was not re-signed and Brassard was traded to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad .
Zibanejad is at 57.8 percent this season, up 7.4 from last season with the Senators.
And Stepan (currently at 47.7, up 3.6 since 2014-15), Hayes (52.7, up 16.4) and Miller (47.8, up 3.7) have all raised their games in the circles. And newcomer Josh Jooris has won 12 of 19 (63.2 percent).
Last season, Moore, now with the Bruins who visit New York on Wednesday, told Newsday that eye-hand coordination, body positioning and knowing the opponent were critical to faceoff wins. “Bounces can help, but even then, the top guys only win between 57 and 60 percent,” Moore said. “That’s why every [percentage] point means so much.”