I caught a nice point on twitter this weekend, courtesy of Tyler Dellow, who mentioned that one of the big differences between Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is that the Penguins use the former a lot more in the defensive zone than they do the latter.

I’d always sort of assumed that was the case, but hadn’t ever looked into it, but it got me thinking. Most people have those two and Alexander Ovechkin as the three best players in the world (although there are arguments for others as well, notably Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Kane) and I wondered how they’d compare in terms of faceoffs.

To find out, I went to Gabriel Desjardin’s excellent site, where they keep track of that sort of thing, and did up a chart for this season and the past two, comparing the number of offensive zone and defensive zone faceoffs each has been on for.

Faceoffs Crosby Malkin Ovechkin
07-08 Offensive 221 342 396
08-09 Offensive 390 410 392
09-10 Offensive 260 231 189
07-08 Defensive 223 307 286
08-09 Defensive 297 234 280
09-10 Defensive 231 182 158
Total Offensive 871 983 977
Total Defensive 751 723 724
Total Percent Off.: 53.7 57.6 57.4

Naturally, since these are the game’s best offensive players, all of them are on the right side of 50%; no coach, after all, wants to maroon his best scorers in the defensive zone. However, there is a significant gap between Crosby and the other two.

It’s an important point to note; Crosby’s numbers would undoubtedly be influenced a little bit by an extra 100-or-so offensive zone face-offs. Given that the vast majority of NHL players fall between 40% and 60% on this scale, a 3%-4% shift is fairly significant.

It’s not a critical point, but it is one to keep in mind when comparing these three players.

Comments (14)

  1. Crosby is the better player.. unless you are playing video games.

  2. lolz… even in video games crosby has a better overall… haha… take a look at nhl 10… crosby 94 overalll… ovi 91 or something… im pretty sure malkin has a higher overall then ovi also… regardless of what video games say its fairly obvious that crosby is the superior player… the only thing ovi has that crosby doesn’t is a over dramatic goal celebration…

  3. I do wonder about the difference in opportunity between Washington and Pittsburgh. If Washington, as a team, has a much better ratio of OZ FOs to DZ FOs or vice versa it would tell us a fair bit about how the coaches are using them. I know you’re not really getting at coaching tendencies here but I think it’s a useful thing to include. There are some teams (like Dallas) who have very few forwards with a negative ratio and other teams (like Atlanta) where almost all forwards have a negative ratio.

  4. Just for this season, the Penguins forwards have 2069-1907 OFF-DEF faceoffs for 52.0% offensive starts. The Capitals are at 2053-1957 for 51.2%. So the two teams are pretty similar. Also for just this season, Crosby has 53.9% OFF starts and Ovechkin 54.5%, so not much difference there this season either. Looking at the last three would be better though. And is it just a weird coincidence, or does Ovechkin seem to be on the ice for a ton of neutral zone faceoffs this year?

    Interestingly, Guerin and Dupuis are the most sheltered regular Penguin forwards at 57.6% and 56.2%, while Semin and Backstrom get the easiest starts on the Caps at 55.8% and 57.4%. So the superstars are getting harder assignments than some of their regular linemates.

  5. People still argue about Gretzky vs. Lemieux, so the Crosby vs. Ovechkin (vs. Malkin) thing will never end.

    Honestly though, it’s like trying to pick between an Aston Martin and a Ferrari. Or Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel. It just doesn’t matter that much (the Penguins – hilariously – don’t have to pick between Crosby and Malkin…).

  6. I’m sure one of the reasons Crosby starts in the defensive zone more is that he’s become very good on draws. I’m not a Crosby fan, and sometimes I flat out don’t like him, but one of the things he does deserve to be commended for is how much better he is on faceoffs than he was when he started in the NHL. Some of that comes from maturing physically and gaining experience, but I do recall that shortly after Crosby’s pro career started he flat out said faceoffs were something he was going to improve on, and he surely has done that. It’s not too often you see a 22 year old among the league leaders in FO%. And the 57.6% he’s winning now is a full 12% higher than the number he put up in his rookie season, which is kind of ridiculous.

    Anyway, I have to think it’s a testament to the guy’s work ethic. Which is probably why I don’t like Crosby that much. It’s just jealousy. To be that talented and have a very strong work ethic? It’s not fair. What a dick.

  7. As Japers’ Rink pointed out:

    Your article might have merit if Ovi was a center, “but given that Nicklas Backstrom – Ovi’s pivot – is at best the Caps’ third-best faceoff option while Crosby is the Pens’ best draw man, using this stat to make the implication that’s made is dubious at best.”

    So, yes, you could say that Crosby is an excellent faceoff man. But to use that to compare the 2 is just showing Crosby-homerism.

    Ovi is the better player, and I’m not even a Caps fan.

  8. This comparison is bogus. You are using stats in a misleading manner. I take issue with how narrowly you have framed the question and how you are comparing players without regard to the fact that they play different positions. Crosby and Malkin are centers whereas Ovechkin is a left winger. For the Caps Backstrom is the center who is paired with Ovechkin and he is the 3rd best at taking the faceoff. David Steckel, their center for the fourth line, is the Caps best faceoff guy. indeed he is a league leader. Statistics like words can be spun to make any kind of argument but you have built a house of cards here.

  9. Another canuck trying to make a ridiculous statement on how Crysby is better than the Great 8. Way to pull these stats out and comparing two players with different roles on their teams. How bout you pull out the hits stats and see who wins that department.

  10. Sad Pens fans wearing blinders. Anyone who claims to know that either Crosby is obviously better than Ovechkin or vice versa is carrying a serious bias. They are both tremendous, and have different strengths. If anything Ovi is more of a physical specimen unlike anything we’ve seen in sports, and likely will rank higher in most history books looking back.

  11. Well since Crosby is a center and Ovechkin is a winger, comparing face offs is rather…pointless. The Caps PK unit consists mostly of 4rth line grinders who also act as the teams Defensive-forwards(such as is the case with many teams, case in point Jordan Staal’s 3rd line for the Pens). and occasionally Backstrom, a center, and Semin who acts as a harasser.

    I can compare silly stats too, like how Ovechkin averages 21:30 TOI and Crosby gets 21:52, AO also has 19.7 Shifts per Game while Crosby has 23.2. Since Ovechkin has more points(70 to 67) and assists(37 to 34) in less time(avg 22 seconds pg), is tied in goals(33) and less games(10 games less) played, clearly he is a better player.

    I won’t even say I was comparing strictly offensive stats, or draw my conclusion to saying he is a better offensive player, no, AO is just the better player. See I can say things based on stats too, doesn’t make them true.

  12. Actually, J.P. (who I have tremendous respect for) misunderstood the implication I was making. It wasn’t that Crosby’s the more reliable defensive player (I might make that case at some point, but these numbers certainly don’t make it) just that we need to realize his offensive numbers are influenced by this particular piece of context.

    I’m not making the case that the coaches’ use of these players indicates defensive ability, I’m making the case that the coaches’ use of these players affects their offensive numbers.

  13. Well I’ve read your analysis several times, scratched my head, and have to say your point vaguely seems to be suggesting that Crosby could score more goals and therefore could score more often than Ovechkin if he were given more offensive zone face-offs. But perhaps the Pens would suffer defensively. You are also assuming that Crosby has equal strength in shot varieties as Ovechkin. Can you say that Crosby’s slap shot is a powerful as Ovechkin’s. The way they score goals is different.

    At heart though, I take issue with your starting premise, which I find fundamentally flawed. You are comparing a center to a left winger in a face-off situation to suggest that one player may be better than the other . It’s an apples to oranges argument, ending with what-ifs.

  14. Capsyoungguns: I’m not making any statement about which player is better. I’m saying that Crosby’s offensive totals would be slightly better if he got as much time starting in the offensive zone as Malkin and Ovechkin do. Full stop.

    I’m not sure why people keep reading a preference for one over the other in here, since it isn’t there.

    Or, to quote the article:

    “Crosby’s numbers would undoubtedly be influenced a little bit by an extra 100-or-so offensive zone face-offs. Given that the vast majority of NHL players fall between 40% and 60% on this scale, a 3%-4% shift is fairly significant. It’s not a critical point, but it is one to keep in mind when comparing these three players.”

    You aren’t finding my conclusion flawed. You’re finding the conclusion you assume I came to but didn’t write flawed.

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