TORONTO — The Anaheim Ducks are masters of the draw this season.
The NHL's best faceoff team at 56 per cent, Anaheim put on a clinic Monday night in their 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning 67 per cent of the total faceoffs (42 of 61), including 20 of 24 in the second period.
The game winner came on a perfectly executed faceoff by veteran Ryan Kesler. Facing rookie Maple Leafs centre Frederik Gauthier on his backhand, Kesler shuffled the draw directly to his right where Cam Fowler was waiting. The Ducks defenceman whipped the perfect faceoff win past Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.
"I thought they dominated the circle against us," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.
Antoine Vermette, far and away the league's best in the circle, emerged on 86 per cent of his 21 draws against the Leafs, including 10 of 11 in the defensive zone. The 34 year old boasts a ridiculous 65.6 per cent success rate this season, well ahead of Jordan Staal in second place (61.1 per cent).
The former Ottawa Senator second pick ranks first in the NHL in the home confines of the Honda Center in Anaheim (67.4 per cent) and first on the road too (64.2 per cent).
"Every time he's out there we think he's winning every time," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said.
Vermette has always been a face-off ace, but never quite to this level. Last season, playing for the Arizona Coyotes, he put up a 55.8 per cent mark that ranked 14th league-wide. No slouch himself at 52.5 per cent this year, Getzlaf said Vermette changes games with his ability on the draw.
The St. Agapit, Que., native has won 67 per cent of his short-handed faceoffs and 69 per cent on those on the power play.
"He can elongate his career by two or three years just doing that," Getzlaf said of Vermette, who signed a two-year deal worth US$3.5 million last summer. "I think he's recognized that. He's worked at it."
Kesler, too, offers the Ducks another expert. The former Vancouver Canuck ranks fifth with a 58.7 per cent mark on the draw, including a 68 per cent showing (17 of 25) against Toronto. Not only did he win the draw that led to Fowler's game-winner, but also the one that led to Getzlaf's power-play goal in the middle period.
Enjoying a big year at age 32 (28 points), Kesler has won 57.5 per cent of draws on an Anaheim power play which ranks second in the NHL this season.
"The thing about (Kesler) is if you're going into a faceoff with him if you're going to win it you're going to pay for it," Getzlaf said. "He's going to work hard at it all the time and battle for those pucks."
Vermette and Kesler have combined to take 64 per cent of all Ducks draws this season.
"We knew going in it was going to be a challenge," Auston Matthews said of facing the Ducks in the face-off circle. "A couple of the faceoffs cost us so it's a good lesson for us going where we need to be. That's a really good team right there."
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press