BUFFALO (LGS) — Whether he's been rutted in a goal-scoring slump or catching fire again in recent games, Buffalo Sabres' co-captain Chris Drury has been doing one thing consistently well the past month: winning faceoffs. A lot them, actually.
Throwing out a subpar performance against Washington — mirroring just about every other aspect of Buffalo's game — Drury has been on a tear since early November, winning almost 64% of his faceoffs in the 13 games before Saturday night. The surge has put Drury in third place in the league in faceoff winning percentage at 59.3%. (12/12 update: With three solid performances on faceoffs on the road last week, Drury has slipped past Rod Brind'Amour into second place, less than a percentage point behind the new league leader, Yanic Perreault of Phoenix. Follow the race.)
After a good start to the season that placed the center in the upper echelon of faceoff men in the league, Drury kicked it up a notch against Mats Sundin and the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs at HSBC Arena on November 4. The Sabres lost, 4-1, their first regulation loss of the season, but Drury dominated the Leafs' captain, winning eight of 12 faceoffs on a 65% night overall.
It started a remarkable stretch that saw Drury win 181 faceoffs and lose 103 before going 11 up and 14 down against Washington.
His most memorable win illustrates the importance of faceoffs in a hockey game. Drury cleanly beat the Rangers' Matt Cullen in overtime on November 26, winning the puck back to Teppo Numminen and tipping the defenseman's slapshot past Henrik Lundqvist to give the Sabres a 3-2 win. (Of course, sometimes when you win a faceoff, you lose. Just ask the Senators' Antoine Vermette, who beat Drury in a game at Ottawa but sent the puck onto the tape of Maxim Afinogenov in front of the net for a shocking goal.)
Want more evidence of how important winning faceoffs is? Of the top dozen faceoff teams in the league this season, only Phoenix has a losing record.
The numbers aren't all good. Despite Drury's hand-eye coordination — and sometimes, just plain old relentlessness — the Sabres are 10th in the league in faceoff winning percentage, and only Paul Gaustad among other Sabres who've taken a significant numbers of draws is above the .500 mark, at a shade under 53 percent. Anaheim not only leads the Sabres in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, they lead the league on the draw, winning 53.6 percent, a hair better than Rod Brind'Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes.
It's an improvement from last regular season, though, when the Sabres were just under 50 percent and ended up 17th, then dropped a few more percentage points in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference finals, Drury, 10th in the league in the regular season, was taken to school by Brind'Amour, who won 63 percent of head-to-head matchups with Captain Clutch, a big factor in the Canes' elimination of the Sabres.
This year, Brind'Amour is second in the league, both he and Drury trailing the Islanders' Mike Sillinger.
Keep your eye on this race. If the two meet up again in the conference finals, it could be a win on a draw that sends one team or the other to the biggest faceoff of them all: the Stanley Cup finals.