SUN Hockey Pool

Pisani centre of attention

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:21 PM ET

For years, Fernando Pisani never understood the big deal about faceoffs. Never even gave them a second thought unless it was to roll his eyes after his centre lost a big one.

But after a few games on the dot himself, where opponents have been schooling him like the slow kid in kindergarten, he'd like to take a moment to apologize for all the bad things he ever thought about anyone who ever lost an important draw.

"People don't realize how much effort and skill it takes to win faceoffs," said the natural born winger, who's being auditioned at centre between Ethan Moreau and Dustin Penner in training camp.

"As a winger before, you kind of took those things for granted, always wondering why your centreman didn't win the draw. Now, being on this side of it, you have a little more appreciation for it."

The whole team is developing a new appreciation for faceoffs this season. After taking a high winning percentage for granted all those years, when Jarret Stoll, Marty Reasoner and Shawn Horcoff were consistently ranked near the top of the NHL, they're suddenly a little shorthanded in the circle.

Stoll and Reasoner, who between them took almost half of Edmonton's faceoffs last season (2,135 of 4,595), are gone.

That's a lot of draws to fill.

"We miss those numbers," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "Stollie was really good and so was Marty. But with Kyle Brodziak and Marc Pouliot we have the ability to augment that drop off."

It's going to require some significant augmenting, given the recent stats.

Pisani went 5-for-14 Wednesday against Florida, on a night when the Oilers as a team were 40%. Andrew Cogliano went 5-for-16 on Thursday against Florida and was 3-for-14 Tuesday in Vancouver, on a night when the Oilers went 34%.

"We have to make sure that we're not giving up those quality chances through inexperience in the faceoff circle," said MacTavish, who doesn't want his lines having to spend the first 30 seconds of every shift trying to win back the puck. "But it's an issue that we can help him with (in the regular season)."

Sliding Horcoff or Brodziak in to take draws, especially in the defensive zone, is one way to hide the weakness, but it's not ideal.

Ideally you want Cogliano and Pisani, if he stays at centre, to be good enough that they win more than they lose. But that's easier said than done, as MacTavish, one of the NHL's best faceoff men in his day, knows.

"It's a hard ability to dramatically improve on," he said. "You've either got it or you don't. You can improve through repetition and experience, but it's hard to bring a 40% faceoff guy up to 55%."

Pisani is doing all he can to inch his numbers up, picking Horcoff's brain, working after practice with assistant coach Billy Moores, anything to make himself better. And, in the early going, there's a lot that can.

"It's just repetition and practice and getting pointers from the other centremen," he said.

"Like having more blade on the ice, putting your bottom hand lower so you have more strength to bring it back - every day you learn something.

"Faceoffs are something you have to practice and work at."

It's worth it, though, ask any team that doesn't win them.

"It's huge," said Horcoff. "You win the draw on a power play and you're in the offensive zone for two full minutes, lose it and you lose 30 seconds.

"For two or three years I took all the draws on the left side and Stollie took them on the right side, so it's a big loss, but it's an opportunity for other players to work at it, to become good at it.

"You just have to work on it. I've been doing faceoffs for 10 years now after practice."


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