Nick Goss

Why Bruins must find faceoff upgrade before 2024 NHL trade deadline

Faceoffs have been a noticeable problem for the Bruins this season.

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The Boston Bruins were less than two minutes from one of their best wins of the season Tuesday night. They were about to become just the third team in 2023-24 to shut out the Edmonton Oilers.

But like they have so many times this season, and particularly of late, the Bruins couldn't close out the victory in the third period. Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl got a fortunate bounce in front of the net as the puck trickled past Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark to tie the score at one apiece with 1:20 remaining. Draisaitl later sealed Edmonton's 2-1 win with a goal in overtime.

One of the primary issues for the Bruins over the last month has been faceoffs.

The Bruins have won just two of their last seven games, and they have a 46.7 faceoff win percentage during that span, which ranks 25th out of 32 teams. They rank 17th with a 49.1 faceoff win percentage since the All-Star break. Boston ranks 21st with a 49.2 faceoff win percentage for the whole season.

How does that compare to previous years?

Well, the B's were No. 2 in faceoff win percentage last season. They were No. 3 in 2021-22, No. 1 in 2020-21 and No. 7 in 2019-20. Only the Carolina Hurricanes have a better faceoff win percentage than the B's over the last 10 years. This is one facet of the game where the Bruins really, really miss Patrice Bergeron -- one of the best faceoff centers of all time.

Pavel Zacha (54.3 percent) and Charlie Coyle (51.8 percent) have been pretty good on faceoffs all season. The rest of the team? Not so much. No one else on the roster is above 46.2 percent, except John Beecher (53.9 percent), who was assigned to the AHL's Providence Bruins in January.

Defensive-zone faceoffs in particular have been a problem late in games for the Bruins in recent weeks.

Oilers forward Corey Perry tied the score in the third period of their Feb. 21 matchup after an Edmonton faceoff win in the attacking zone. The B's managed to escape with a 6-5 overtime victory.

The Vancouver Canucks erased a two-goal deficit against the Bruins in the third period on Feb. 24, and both of their tallies were the result of offensive-zone faceoff wins.

Vince Dunn tied the score 2-2 for the Seattle Kraken on Feb. 26 after a faceoff win in the Bruins' zone during the third period. The Kraken ended up winning 4-3 in overtime.

The Oilers tied the score 1-1 late in the third period Tuesday night when Charlie Coyle lost a defensive-zone draw. Draisaitl scored soon after, and the Oilers eventually won in OT.

The Bruins have won just 45.1 percent (80 of 177) of their third-period and overtime faceoffs over the last nine games. That's nowhere near good enough for a team that expects to win multiple rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the Bruins acquire a forward before Friday's NHL trade deadline, this player needs to be able to win faceoffs. The report Tuesday about the Bruins potentially being able to get Elias Lindholm from the Vancouver Canucks was fascinating for many reasons. One of them is Lindholm's elite faceoff ability.

Lindholm has taken the fifth-most defensive-zone faceoffs in the league at 479. His 57.5 win percentage on these d-zone draws ranks No. 1 among the 22 players who have taken at least 350 of them. He has won 56 percent of his faceoffs overall.

Acquiring Lindholm would give the Bruins a much-needed boost offensively, another forward who can play on the power play and kill penalties, and someone capable of consistently winning important faceoffs. Lindholm is a legit top-six center with an excellent two-way skill set. He finished second to Bergeron in Selke Trophy voting in 2021-22.

Faceoffs aren't the only reason why the Bruins are blowing so many leads late in games this season. They aren't defending the front of the net well enough. The penalty kill has been below average. The goaltending has not been as dominant as it was earlier in the season. The Bruins also are not winning enough puck battles, which is leading to opponents earning lots of puck possession time in Boston's zone.

There's not one sole issue at play here.

But faceoffs are a huge problem nonetheless, and it's an area the Bruins must be mindful of when looking at the trade market over the next few days. A center who can win faceoffs, such as Lindholm, would be a huge upgrade for this roster.

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