Can you clarify what is legal and what is not in a typical face off. Currently you have guys falling to their knees, falling on the puck etc. Who in you view is "a great face off player" and why?
The face-off procedure is recognized to be so important (especially end zone face-offs) that 4 1/2 pages in the rule book are dedicated to the entire process. Teams almost always place two centers on the ice for a defensive zone face-off just in case the first one is ejected. To whittle it all down in the most simple terms, the expectations placed on the Linesmen is for the face-off to be conducted fast and fair.
With all the markings on the ice at the end zone dot where players are expected to locate their skates and stick (stand squarely - stick on the ice) you would think it should be a brainless exercise to conduct a fair face-off. That would only occur if the players were 'statues' and unable to cheat at every opportunity.
It has been said that "timing" is everything in life - which most often includes winning face-offs. The biggest advantage I see is when a center is allowed to time the drop with stick motion. Experienced players know when and how to gain this edge not only by studying their opponents but also recognizing any "tell" demonstrated by the linesman. Timing can be facilitated by coming in late and/or placing the stick on the dot with a touch and lift/swing in anticipation of the release of the puck by the linesman.
Once the back Referee completes the line change procedure and lowers his hand to indicate no further changes, the Linesman conducting the face-off blows his whistle signaling both teams that they have no more than 5 seconds to line up for the ensuing face-off. Players and fans get restless the longer it takes for the linesman to conduct a face-off so there is pressure to get the puck down in the designated time.
I believe the most successful linesmen in the face-off circle are those that establish respect and solicit cooperation from the centers. The #1 face-off man in the NHL at present is Antoine Vermette of the Anaheim Ducks with 67% win ratio. Experience can often be the best teacher so it doesn't surprise me that the 34 year old Vermette is annually at or near the top of the list. He gets set, reads his opponent well and is a student of the game. Let me show you an example.
As the puck is being released by the linesman Antoine Vermette maintained a strong position and gained leverage under Dowd's stick and hands as the LA player attempted to drop to one knee.
Having removed Dowd's stick from contacting the puck and continuing to use the leverage to his advantage, Vermette was able to take control of the face-off area with his body. It is next to impossible for Dowd to play the puck at this point other than with his hand, which would result in a penalty. Notice the force exerted by Vermette to turn his opponent.
Vermette uses his body position to kick the puck to his teammate Richard Rakell who eventually scored on this puck possession gained off the Vermette face-off win.
Ryan Kessler is another veteran that brings grit and intensity into the face-off circle. Look at Kessler's eyes as he enters the circle and sets himself. You will see a focus that is penetrating. Presently Kessler, who also plays for the Ducks, is ranked #4 at a 62.8% success rate.
To finish off your question Tom, once the puck is dropped "fairly", there is nothing within the rules that prevents players from dropping to their knees to block the puck or the path of their opponent unless they physically interfere. Both centers are not able to play the puck with their hand without incurring a penalty until such time as a third player (from either team) has at least touched the puck.
Love your work and really hoping you can clear something up for me regarding the offside rule. When a team has the puck in its attacking zone, does the puck have to completely come outside of the blue line, i.e. the linesman needs to see white ice between the puck and the blue line?
That is my understanding of the rule from color analysts on TV. I've been watching hockey for a while and this does not match up with what I see. It seems that the puck just has to touch the white ice outside of the blue line for it to be offside. The linesmen are great at what they do and it seems like that is how it is called. I appreciate all that you do for the game and I hope you get to answer this because it has bugged me for a while. Thanks for your time.
The blue line is twelve inches (12") wide. On the entry into the attacking zone the puck must completely cross the leading (inside) edge of the blue line. That means that the linesman has to see white ice between the puck and the line to regard that it has entered the zone. Once the puck has legally entered the attacking (on-side) the entire blue line becomes part of the attacking zone.
Conversely, on the way out of the attacking zone the puck must completely cross the trailing or outside edge closest to the neutral zone to be regarded as having exited the attacking zone. This requires that the Linesman must see white ice between the puck and that outside edge of the blue line.
I provide one last thought to clarify this for you Craig. On the entry into the attacking zone the entire blue line is considered part of the neutral zone - while on the exit the entire blue line is considered part of the defending zone.
The NHL Linesmen do a terrific job given the speed of the game and the multiplayer attack that cross the blue line.