January 29 2013 06:44PM
A hypothesis: the rumours concerning the Canucks' defensive demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Looking through my time-line on Twitter, I've read that Alex Edler isn't deserving of his contract, that Kevin Bieksa is the worst No. 1 in the league, that Dan Hamhuis looks terrible this season, and I've also read people calling for Jason Garrison's head just six games into a new contract. Rest assured, all of that is mostly over-wrought pablum.
Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev get a pass online, though, and as much as I'd like to say that Chris Tanev's minutes should be upped to include prime powerplay and penalty kill time, as well as thrust the young, undrafted defenceman into a shutdown role at even strength, now is really not the time.
It's a long season. People may try to tell you differently, but don't listen to them. The playoff picture after 48 games last season was about equal to what it was after 82. If the Canucks are in trouble after 30 games, then there's time to hit the panic button. But we're only six games into the season and thanks to Gary Bettman's moronic point system - introduced as a way to create artificial parity - the Canucks are tied for sixth in the conference despite a horrendous start.
So, so often, I like to talk about process when looking at games in a small sample. 19 times during the Stanley Cup season did the Canucks have a six-game stretch where they recorded 6 or fewer points. That's about a quarter of the season. Of course, Vancouver was a much better team after six games in the 2011 season. After those six games, the Canucks had a 54.1% Fenwick Tied rate, according to timeonice. Those scripts haven't been updated for this season yet, but Behind the Net tells us that after six games, the Canucks are an awful 52.9% Fenwick Tied team, tied for just fifth in the Western Conference. Fifth!
That number is without arguably Vancouver's two best play drivers at even strength in Ryan Kesler and David Booth.
So naturally, the attention gets turned to the defence. It's hard for me to critique the defence, first of all, because I don't think the team is in rough shape. One of the risks you take with having Alex Edler in the lineup is that he makes a lot of plays, but sometimes those plays turn into giveaways. This season, the needle is leaning towards the "giveaway" portion of the meter more predominantly, but it's more often on the other side.
Here are the stats so far on the Canucks' defence, via Behind the Net:
|NAME||TOI/60||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi On||Off Zone Start %||PDO|
The thing that strikes me here is that Keith Ballard is actually leading the team in EV ice-time, as Alain Vigneault has found him and Tanev every possible shift against a weaker opponent. Last night against the Kings, that pairing probably looked better than the top-four because they got to play against Jarret Stoll, Jordan Nolan and Trevor Lewis predominantly while the other pairings saw time against Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar, depending on how the Kings were using them.
Tanev's top two opponents this year, (for forwards on different teams) are Nick Bonino and Matt Stajan. Bieksa's are Ryan Getzlaf and Sam Gagner. Garrison's are Daniel Winnik and Taylor Hall. I'll let you figure out which ones are the easier opponents to play against.
Here's what I suspect is going on here. In an effort to have more defencemen play above 17 minutes this season, Alain Vigneault is intensifying the minutes given out to his top two pairings while relaxing the quality of competition the third pairing faces. Doing so takes away precious minutes against weak competition that top-four would otherwise use to accent their own offensive numbers. So the top-four is facing a concentrated dose of tough minutes, while the third line gobbles up all of the available "softer" minutes against the opposition's bottom-six forwards.
I don't know where I stand on what's a preferable method, but the Canucks and their homeopathic, sleep therapeutic ways would rather trend, presumably, on evening out the minutes played. It just so happens that the fact that Ballard and Tanev haven't played against "toughs" yet this season enhances the appearance of success from the Canucks' third pairing. Any good NHLer can rack up a good Corsi rate against weak competition, and Tanev and Ballard are good NHLers.
The other notable thing from that BTN chart? The Canucks haven't had to give out a lot of defensive zone draws this season. Every single defenceman is in 50%+ territory, starting more shifts in the offensive side of the ice than the defensive. That's an interesting, if probably unsustainable, trend that has given Manny Malhotra a 45.8% offensive zone start rate. The last two years he was 25% and 13.2%.