Monday, January 7, 2013

Punch Imlach & His Faceoff-Taking Defencemen

Leafs celebrating Bob Pulford's OT winner in Game 3.

It's part of Toronto Maple Leaf folklore. And really, that's all that keeps us Leaf fans going is folklore. Game Six of the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals. 55 seconds remaining. Who does coach Punch Imlach have take the defensive-zone face off to the left of Terry Sawchuk but defenceman Allan Stanley. Of course, Stanley would beat Jean Beliveau on the draw and eight seconds later George Armstrong sealed the Leaf Cup win with an empty-net goal. The truth is, Imlach using his defencemen to take the defensive zone draw was more of a normal than a rarity.

Punch Imlach had actually started this practice as far back as the early 1960's. His thinking was that the defender could simply run right through the opposing centre with little concern for the puck that was being dropped. This actually led to the introduction of an interference penalty being assessed to such actions. Even still, Imlach enjoyed throwing his d-men out for defensive draws.

I watched this very game recently and decided to keep track of the face off stats as best as I could. The NHL Network broadcast has cut out a few minutes of the game play in places, but I was able to count well over 90 percent of the draws in the game. The results are as one might expect. Of the total of 32 face offs in the Toronto end, Imlach had a defenceman take an amazing 27 of them. The individual breakdowns are as follows:

Armstrong, a Right Winger managed to split the two draws he took, both in the offensive zone.

Kelly, the defenceman converted to centreman years prior took 8 of his 10 draws in the neutral zone. The two face offs he took in Toronto's zone were within 10 feet of the Toronto blueline, caused by pucks that went over the glass.
Centreman Keon took 6 of the 12 face offs in the Montreal end, splitting them. Amazingly, there were almost three times as many face offs in the Toronto zone compared to the Montreal zone (32 to 12).  The majority of this discrepancy occurred in the third period with Toronto protecting a lead, in the third alone there were 16 face offs in the Toronto end (mostly icing calls) and only ONE in the Montreal end. 

Centreman Stemkowski was the only Maple Leaf to win more draws than he lost, yet did not take a single face off in his own end.
Winger Pulford managed to win his only face off, in his own end, in the third period.

Hillman, along with Stanley and Pronovost were each even on face offs for the evening, although he was only 1 for 3 in the third.
Horton was the only weak spot among the defence corp face off brigade going 1 for 7 on the game including 0 for 3 in the third period.
After wining both his draws in the first period, he took only two more the rest of the game losing both.

As stated, in the third period there were 16 face offs in Toronto's zone and the only three taken by forwards were within 10 feet of the Toronto blueline. All 13 of the face offs in the circles left and right of Sawchuk were taken by Leaf defenders. They won 4 and lost 9 of them.Stanley took five of these draws in the third winning the most important one with under a minute remaining.

Dave Keon vs. Jimmy Roberts in the 1st Period of Game 6. Keon won.

Beliveau was the horse one would expect winning 70% of his face offs overall. He was especially tough in Toronto's zone winning 9 of 11, he was 4 of 5 in the third period losing only the last one to Allan Stanley.
After a slow start to the game, Backstrom won 11 and lost 5 face offs in the second and third periods.
As with most of Les Canadiens, Richard won far more draws than he lost yet took only 1 of the 16 draws in the Toronto end in the third.
Roberts who played both defence and forward was playing up this game and was an abysmal 1 for 8 on draws.

When all was said and done, I counted a total of 69 face offs throughout the game with Toronto winning 30, Montreal 39. Toronto was in fact leading after two periods by a count of 24 to 21. In the third period alone Montreal won 18 and Toronto 6, and remember 17 of those 24 third period face offs took place in the Toronto end.

Toronto's forwards won 19 and lost 23 overall with the defence going 11 and 16. As stated, the defence were even on draws throughout the match if not for Horton's 1 win in 7 attempts. In the end, Imlach really can't be faulted for this strange practice as 3 of the 4 defencemen performed adequately. The Leafs didn't win the Cup as a direct result of this practice, but it definitely didn't hinder them too much.

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