The Oilers can't afford to go down 0-3 in the Stanley Cup finals. What do they need to do to get on the board against the Hurricanes? It might come down to the basics, like faceoffs. Here's a look at a big matchup inside the circle.
Edmonton assistant coach Bill Moores does a drill at the end of most practices that involves the team's centers. One at a time, they come to center ice and they do rapid faceoff drills with Moore dropping half a dozen or more pucks in succession, the centers pulling them back as quickly as possible.
It's a part of the finals series the Oilers would do well to work on, especially No. 1 center Shawn Horcoff, who has (sadly for him) been matched up most often with faceoff king and Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour.
The faceoff is a mini-battle within the larger battle of the game. Because the Hurricanes are such a talented team, puck possession is a key element of trying to neutralize their attack. Hence, success in the faceoff circle is important.
In an effort to give himself at least a little edge, Horcoff has been vocal about what he said are Brind'Amour's tendencies to cheat in the faceoff circle. He claimed that Brind'Amour doesn't get square to the linesman before the puck is dropped. By angling to one side or the other, Brind'Amour has a better opportunity to draw the puck back or move it in the direction he chooses.
Whether raising his concerns publicly helped sow a seed with the on-ice officials or not, Horcoff said he thought the cheating was less prominent in Game 2 than in Game 1.
In the series opener, Horcoff was manhandled on the draw, losing 18 of 27. He was 8-for-16 in Game 2.
"It's something we work on. We take pride in it," he said.
In Game 3, because the Oilers are the home team, Horcoff will have the advantage of being able to set up last in the circle.
The faceoff circle is Brind'Amour's second home. During the regular season, the veteran pivot led all NHL players by taking 2,145 draws. That was 347 more faceoffs than the next closest center, Joe Thornton of San Jose. Brind'Amour won an astounding 59.1 percent of regular-season draws and he has been even more dominant in the playoffs. Brind'Amour has won 59.9 percent of the league-leading 534 draws in which he's been involved in the postseason.
In Game 1, Brind'Amour took all Oilers centers to the woodshed, winning 28 of 34 faceoffs while he slipped to 50 percent in Game 2, winning 10 of 20, in part perhaps because of Horcoff's lobbying.
"It's 100-percent PR," Brind'Amour said of the process.
Brind'Amour scoffs at the notion that he's been cheating, saying Horcoff and the Oilers centers cheated throughout the San Jose series and finding it ironic that now they're accusing him of the same tactics.
The allegations are the first in his career, Brind'Amour said. "Whatever."
For masters of the draw, like Brind'Amour, there are a series of set plays that can be run off a faceoff depending where on the ice the faceoff takes place.
In Game 1, Brind'Amour came within a hair of scoring off the draw while the Hurricanes were shorthanded two players. But he said he never looks at his stats and believes the notion of the art of the faceoff is overstated.
"It means nothing to me," he said.