New York Islanders Matt Duchene Face-Off Deep Dive

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 12: Matt Duchene
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 12: Matt Duchene /

The New York Islanders might still be in the hunt for Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene. He’s a great faceoff man. But what does that actually mean?

The New York Islanders need a second line center. Sure, Mathew Barzal might be a good option for the Isles, but who knows what he’ll be like in the NHL. Remember that moment that got him sent back to the AHL? When he played the puck while still in the penalty box.

He may have shaken that by now, but who knows. But if the New York Islanders can land a big name center like Matt Duchene that would elevate the risk in throwing Barzal to the wolves on the second line.

Fans are raving about Duchene’s face off winning abilities. He won 62.57% of his draws last season and another 57.92% in 2015-16. But what does that mean exactly? And is that, on the face of it. A good thing?

I spoke with Craig Tabita of He’s done some significant research on face-offs and provided some great insight into what that

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Questions and Answers

Michel Anderson, Eyes on Isles: The logic for fans when it comes to face-off wins is that winning draws equals possession and possession is a good thing. So my first question to you is: Is that absolutely true? Because if so, why does Matt Duchesne only hit above 50% CF once in his career.

Craig Tabita, You do get an advantage from a face-off win but that advantage is short-lived. My research says that on average after ten seconds, the flow of shots has little dependence on the outcome of the face-off but rather on the things that happen after the face-off. [1]

A typical NHL game has about 60 face-offs, which means that about 80% of the game, by time, is played outside of that 10-second window following a face-off. So while Duchene’s face-off winning talents raise his possession stats, there are other things that have more profound impacts. One of those factors, of course, is that he has played for one of the worst teams in the NHL for the past several years.

New York Islanders

Eyes on Isles: Is winning a draw as straightforward as it sounds? Are there nuances to draw wins? Is winning a draw in the defensive zone means the same as winning one in the offensive zone?

I’ve seen some of your work around net shot post face-off (NSPF) and how a face-off in different zones lead to shot opportunities. What does NSPF tell us about a player and his skill in the face-off circle?

Craig Tabita: While individual strategies differ in terms of how a player conducts face-offs in each zone, a shot prevented is the equivalent of a shot-for in terms of the flow of shots and ultimately the score of the game.

NSPF measures how a player does at increasing shots-for as well as decreasing shots-against after his face-offs compared to the league average. Interestingly, it reveals about Duchene that for last season (and most of the seasons in his career), his value as a face-off taker has come far more from decreasing shots-against than from increasing shots-for. [2]

Eyes on Isles: Are there different ways to qualify a face off win that might help understand what type of skill Matt Duchene might have and what that brings to the table. Is NSPF the best way to establish what his 62% is bringing to the table? Because looking at his NSPF stats he was a negative NSPF player in 2015-16 and just above zero last season. From reading that it makes me think that Duchene is great at winning draws but not so great at generating shots.

Craig Tabita: One thing I have not yet fully built into NSPF is context. It doesn’t know anything about Duchene’s teammates or opponents. So we really don’t have a true measurement of Matt Duchene as an individual; we have a measurement of Matt Duchene, center with the Colorado Avalanche, as deployed by the team.

But if you compare Duchene’s NSPF numbers to his teammates this past season, Duchene’s were far better than the other Colorado centers. [3] This suggests to me that there is a strong talent.

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Eyes on Isles: When looking at face-off win percentages is there something we need to consider before just looking at the number as a whole? Is there such notion as losing a draw on purpose? Losing a draw does after all get the puck closer to where a team wants it to be. On the defensive end, losing a draw pushes it back closer to the blue line, and on the offensive side, it gets the puck closer to the goal. Is there any credence to that notion?

I can’t say that losing a draw on purpose is something I’ve observed happening as far as players happily swatting the puck forward, except in the case of Mario Lemieux and a few other players who have perfected the face-off goal.

In general, unless you are aiming your swat at the goal, you would just be relinquishing control of the puck to the other team. Players would rather secure control of the puck and carry it forward, or if they are going to dump it, have some more control of where it ends up.

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So that 62.57% is still a good number, but looking at a player’s NSPF rating might give a better sense of just what they’re bringing to the table. In Matt Duchene’s case, that huge face-off win percentage just doesn’t seem to be a big positive in the offensive zone.

I want to thank Craig Tabita for taking the time to give us answers in such a short time. Make sure to follow him on Twitter, his handle is @ctab and read all of his stuff at