Predators look to continue about-face on faceoff success

Monday, November 21, 2011 at 11:15pm

The Nashville Predators needed to perform better on faceoffs. Once they finally did, it did not exactly pay off for them.

The Predators won 39 of 52 draws (54 percent) in their most recent contest, Saturday against Columbus. The last of those occurred in the defensive end during overtime — and it led to the Blue Jackets’ game-winning goal, scored by defenseman James Wisniewski with a shot from the point.

“We win that draw and … it gets caught up in a lineman’s feet,” coach Barry Trotz said following the contest. “They pop it back to Wisniewski.”

Officially, Columbus’ Antoine Vermette was credited with the win over Nashville’s Mike Fisher on that faceoff. Even if it were close, though, that would have been reason enough for Trotz to consider it a win.

Prior to Saturday Nashville had won fewer than half the faceoffs in six straight games, which included a miserable success rate of just 33 percent against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena) 26th overall in the NHL and 14th (out of 15 teams) in the Western Conference with a success rate of 47.4 percent. The contest will be the last of five straight at home.

The Oilers are not much better in the faceoff circle at 48.3 percent, which is 24th overall and 12th in the conference. They do, however, have Eric Belanger, who is seventh in the league individually at 56.9 percent.

The first time Nashville and Edmonton met this season — a 3-1 loss Oct. 17 in Edmonton — the Oilers had the slightest of edges (30-29), but Belanger won 13 of 19 (68 percent).

The Predators have not had anyone they can count on to get them possession of the puck with any sort of consistency.

Their top three in terms of attempts are Fisher, David Legwand and Jerred Smithson. That trio has combined for well over half of Nashville’s faceoffs, but Legwand has the best success rate at 48.2 percent. Smithson’s is 47.8 percent and Fisher’s is 46.1 percent.

Smithson has won more than 52 percent of his faceoffs all six seasons he has played with Nashville, including a career-best 57.5 percent last season. In all, he has taken nearly 7,000 draws since the start of 2005-06.

Fisher and Legwand both entered the season under 50 percent for their careers.

Of the Predators who regularly enter the circle, only Nick Spaling (74 wins, 68 losses, 52.1 percent) has succeeded more than he has failed.

Blake Geoffrion, who was a healthy scratch against the Blue Jackets, has won just 45.7 percent and rookie Craig Smith has won just 45.5 percent.