Monday’s preseason opener was a tough game to watch. With two teams opening their preseason slate, some sloppy hockey was expected. What was not expected, however, was the 20 minor penalties doled out on the night.
Along with slashing, faceoffs is a point of emphasis for the NHL this season. Referees and linesmen will be much stricter when enforcing faceoff rules, specifically where a player positions his stick and skate while taking a faceoff.
That emphasis was on full display in New Jersey as three faceoff violation penalties were issued, one within the game’s first minute.
“Just from what guys had said that played in the game and everything just obviously messing up with the flow and just having all those penalties, it sounded kind of crazy,” Capitals center Jay Beagle told reporters on Tuesday. “It's something to be seen, I guess. I hope they're just trying it out in preseason.”
Beagle stands to be the most affected by the faceoff crackdown as the team's top faceoff man. He led the team last season with a faceoff win percentage of 56.4-percent, tied for the 12th best in the NHL among players who took 100 faceoffs or more. He was the only center on the team with a positive faceoff percentage in the defensive zone (56.8-percent) and shorthanded (55.7-percent).
Like everyone, Beagle was not a fan of how the referees enforced the faceoff rules on Monday.
“It's a tough rule to enforce because to make it like it was [Monday] with a bunch of penalties and just the first period with no flow, I don't know if you guys enjoyed watching it, but most people did not like it,” he said. “I don't think that's good for the game.”
But that doesn't mean Beagle doesn't agree with it. Whle Monday's game was ugly, to say the least, he does understand where the NHL is coming from and even wondered if stricter enforcement could perhaps be a good thing.
“Little tweaks here and there to the rule that they’re trying to imply, I think it would work,” Beagle said.
By rule, for a faceoff in the defensive zone, the defensive forward must put his stick down first. Technically the offensive player is then supposed to put his stick down before the faceoff, but in practice linesmen frequently will drop the puck once the defensive forward's stick is down. This gives the offensive player an advantage as he is more easily able to get his stick under for the win.
“Say in the D-zone my stick has to come down first and an offensive guy has to bring his stick down first and they pause for a second and then drop the puck,” Beagle said, “It's more even than me putting my stick down first, an offensive guy flying into the dot and snapping it back on me. It might make it more even.”
So there may be a method to the NHL’s madness even if all we saw on Monday was the madness. Both the players and referees will have to adjust throughout the preseason in order to ensure a much cleaner look at the faceoff dot in the regular season.
“It's going to be something that you have to work on quite a bit,” Beagle said. “It'll take a lot adjustment for everyone."