15 or so games into the season, and the Penguins' savior has been the unlikely Mike Zigomanis. Last night, he cemented his position as unsung hero.
If you missed the game, the Pens rallied from a 5-2, final period deficit to win 7-6 in OT. Tons of fans and writers are going to slobber over Jordan Staal...and rightfully so. He snapped out of a season-opening slump to record his second career hat trick. All three goals were scored in the third period, and he exerted his will over Pavel Datsyuk in the extra frame, sneaking up from behind, stealing the puck, and setting up Ruslan Fedotenko for the game winner.
But there's more to hockey than just passing, shooting and scoring. Faceoffs won and lost are a massive deal in today's NHL. After a goalie stoppage, the puck stays in the attacking zone, so winning faceoffs allows you to keep the attacking pressure on if its in the opposition's zone, or allows you to gain possession to force the puck out of your own zone. This came into play last night.
Observe the above picture. The quality is shitty, since I stole it from the Youtube video at the top, but it shows the Pens in the attacking zone, down a goal, with an empty net and 30 seconds left on the clock. Sidney Crosby had just put a shot on net, and the clock stopped when Detroit goalie Chris Osgood covered the puck. With no room for error, the Pens needed to win this exact faceoff, to keep the puck in the zone and save as much time as possible for a last shot to tie the game. Mike Zigomanis calmly took to the circle, and won the faceoff back to the point. After a shot and scrum, Jordan Staal tapped in a rebound for the hat trick and the equalizer.
Wow, Nick...one faceoff win. Big deal.
No. You'd be hard-pressed to find a reliable faceoff man in Black and Gold over the past 6-7 years. When Ray Shero brought in Ziggy after the first week of this season, we knew we were getting a reliable forward who would score a handful of goals. We weren't sure if we were getting this:
That's the leaderboard for faceoff percentage in the entire NHL. Ziggy has a full one percent lead over noted faceoff man Rob Brind'Amour.
To put this into perspective, its like the Steelers finally having an O Line to compliment their offensive weapons. Its like the Pirates finally having their pitching and bats working at the same time. If you follow either of those teams, you'll understand the importance of faceoffs to the Pens.
Shero has done an amazing job putting together a nucleus of young forwards and defensemen in front of a franchise goalie, but faceoffs have always been our Achilles heel. One faceoff win last night showed the hockey world that Ziggy's faceoff stats were no fluke. The game was on the line, and he calmly did his job. And with that one faceoff win, Ray Shero looks like even more of a genius.
Shero and the Pens put the NHL on notice that they're becoming that complete team that can hang with anyone. Especially the defending champs.
But who woulda thunk that Mike Zigomanis would be the difference?