When preparing for a faceoff on the road, the visiting team's faceoff man must put his stick down on the ice prior to the home faceoff man doing so. Oftentimes, fans will see players quibble over this with the linesman, even occasionally barking at the opposing player.
Why is this so important?
One may think that a skilled faceoff man, like Sidney Crosby, would be able to win a faceoff no matter when his stick is touching the ice. If Crosby is so good, then why does it matter whether he is at home or on the road? Or is this a problem that most every center faces?
Does the first declaration of stick position mean that much?
Let's take a look at the stats for the top 30 faceoff men in the NHL during the 2009-10 season. Specifically, let's take a look at each faceoff man's home and road percentages:
Top 30 faceoff performers, home vs. road
Rank Player Team GP Home% Road% Total%
1 Scott Nichol SJS 79 62.4 58.8 60.6
2 David Steckel WSH 79 63.1 54.8 59.2
3 Rod Brind'Amour CAR 80 62.5 54.4 58.8
4 Joe Pavelski SJS 67 58.8 57.3 58.1
5 P. Bergeron BOS 73 58.7 57.3 58.0
6 Paul Gaustad BUF 65 61.9 53.5 57.4
7 Jonathan Toews CHI 76 61.3 53.3 57.3
8 Mikko Koivu MIN 80 58.6 55.2 56.9
9 Eric Belanger WSH,MIN 77 56.6 56.1 56.4
10 Jarret Stoll LAK 73 57.5 54.2 56.0
11 Sidney Crosby PIT 81 56.1 55.7 55.9
12 Pavel Datsyuk DET 80 55.6 54.6 55.1
13 Ryan Kesler VAN 82 56.3 54.0 55.1
14 Rich Peverley ATL 82 55.1 53.4 54.2
15 A. Vermette CBJ 82 59.4 49 54.2
16 Joe Thornton SJS 79 55.3 52.6 53.9
17 Todd White ATL 65 51.4 56.1 53.8
18 Kyle Wellwood VAN 75 54.6 53.0 53.8
19 V. Lecavalier TBL 82 56.4 49.6 53.2
20 John Madden CHI 79 55.7 50.6 53.0
21 Chris Drury NYR 77 54.5 51.2 52.9
22 Travis Zajac NJD 82 53.6 52.2 52.9
23 Samuel Pahlsson CBJ 79 51.8 53.9 52.9
24 RJ Umberger CBJ 82 55.2 50.6 52.8
25 Vernon Fiddler PHX 76 55.9 49.6 52.4
26 Stephen Weiss FLA 80 53.9 50.9 52.4
27 Jeff Carter PHI 74 53.2 51.4 52.4
28 Marcel Goc NSH 73 55.2 48.1 52.1
29 Mike Fisher OTT 79 55.8 47.8 52.0
30 Kamil Kreps FLA 76 50.7 53.0 51.8
Collectively, these top faceoff men were successful on 56.6% of their draws at home. Conversely, these same men were successful on 53.1% of their draws on the road. So overall, there is an average of 3.5% difference per player between the top 30 men's faceoff success at home versus the road.
First, it is fair to say that these players do not suddenly lose their particular skill when traveling.
There are probably a number of reasons for the above stats. It has been well documented on this website and other statistically-focused websites that statisticians tend to favor the home team when keeping stats or present particular biases regardless of whom reaps the benefits.
Obviously, some faceoffs are clear-cut victories for one player over another, but many faceoffs end up in scrums around the faceoff dot. Similar to football scrums for fumbles, the puck shifts from one team to another with one team emerging with the puck. However, one statistician may see the player who eventually possesses the puck as a victory for one team, while another may see the initial pull of the puck backwards to be a win for the other team. Even looking at "objective" stats requires an open mind to the prevalence of subjectivity within how these stats are tracked.
Home statisticians are probably one reason for the above results, but let's not discount the effect that results from being the second man to put your stick down on a faceoff. A good faceoff man will take note of the opposing player's hands, stick positioning and feet. He will then have an idea of where and how the opposing player intends on playing the drawsome faceoff men play to tie up the opposing player while waiting for help, others try for clean wins, some even try and push the puck forward. That is an advantage for the second man, because by the time he himself has to declare his intentions, the puck is almost immediately dropped.
Even though a majority of the top 30 faceoff men in the NHL are significantly better statistically at home than on the road, a number were actually more successful on the road than at home. Not many, mind you (three of 30), but Todd White, Sammy Pahlsson and Kamil Kreps do seemingly present as anomalies.
In Pahlsson's case, the idea that the statisticians had a significant affect on his percentages seems less substantiated when looking to his teammatesAntoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger both had considerably better home faceoff success rate than road faceoff success rate.
In White's case, the argument for statistician's bias holds more water. Maybe Atlanta statisticians are less favorable to the Thrashers' own faceoff men? Both Todd White and Marty Reasoner were more successful in the faceoff circle when on the road. Rich Peverley and Nik Antropov, on the other hand, were still more successful at home. That said, a closer look at White's numbers demonstrate that White was actually more proficient at home during the two seasons prior to last (both with Atlanta), so maybe last season was an anomaly?
In Kreps's case, both teammates Stephen Weiss and Steve Reinprecht were more successful at home than on the road. However, interestingly, in 2008-09, Kreps was once again more proficient on the road than at home, even though his other three teammates that qualified for this statistic (Stephen Weiss, Gregory Campbell and Nathan Horton) were more successful at home. The season prior (2007-08), on the other hand, Kreps was 3.9% better at home than on the road.
Are there actually players that are better faceoff men on the road than at home? It seems unlikely, but certainly something worth examining in the future.