This Week Straight Up: Oct 21 - Oct 27

Thomas Drance
October 21 2013 03:57PM

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This Week Straight Up

Jeff Angus: What have we learned about the Canucks through 10 games? For one, this team is going to have difficulties scoring.  

Thomas Drance: Jeff when I look over the underlying data, I actually think there's some good news for the Canucks on the goal scoring front. Yes, Vancouver's goal scoring issues have been pronounced in the early going, no doubt about it. But I don't think anyone expected this version of the Canucks would be better than average offensively this season and through ten games they're scoring 2.7 goals per game, which is 15th out of 30 teams, or perfectly average so far.

Considering how unlucky the team has been in the offensive end, I actually think there's grounds for optimism and that this club's goals for totals through ten games might undervalue the team offensively a bit. Consider that the Canucks are controlling games at a pretty impressive rate (they sport a healthy 52.8% shot attempts for percentage at even-strength) but shooting a depressed 7.3% in score close situations. 7.3% isn't too low, but it is a bit low for a team that employs the Sedin twins and plays them for more than twenty minutes a night. That should go up a bit over the balance of the regular season.

More importantly: The Canucks' 5on4 shot rate, which atrophied rather incredibly last season, has bounced back in a massive way in the early going. The Canucks are generating shots on the power-play at a top-5 rate, even though they're shooting an anemic 5.9% in 5-on-4 situations (2nd worst in the league). That's not going to continue, frankly, and in fact I'd say it's pretty likely that the Canucks are a very good team with the man-advantage again.

In other words: while the results so far have been consistent with our expectations, this Canucks team may well have the juice to be a top-10 team offensively once the bounces even out.

Angus: That's certainly interesting, but I wonder if the team's plethora of "shooting percentage" drags on the second and third lines (I'm looking at you David Booth) might serve to deflate the club's "true talent" even-strength shooting percentage. Also, the Canucks seem to be relying too much on point shots and other perimeter opportunities, so let's just say I'm less optimistic about this clubs offensive fortunes than you are...

Anyway what do you think about the obnoxiously named "BeastModo" first line? Ryan Kesler and the Sedin twins combined for a few really good games over the past week, but I'd argue that Vancouver simply doesn’t have the depth throughout their lineup to have their three best forwards on the same line.

Drance: The twins with Kesler is an interesting experiment. While I share your concerns about the club's lack of depth, I think it makes sense for the club to give the twins and Kesler a longer look.

The main reason I sort of like the idea of moving Kesler to the wing is that it changes the way he plays a bit. Kesler can't help himself: he inserts himself physically and willfully all over the ice when he plays center. It's admirable and part of what has made Kesler so effective, but considering his injury history: it makes sense to try and keep that in the barrel for when games matter more down the stretch and into the postseason. 

To my eyes, when Kesler is on the wing, his game changes a bit. Positionally he's kept out of the fray more often and he's slightly less aggressive. Anything that facilitates Kesler to play a less physically taxing style of hockey in October is fine by me.

The secondary reason I think they twins and Kesler should continue to skate together? So far Vancouver's depth players have shown that they can handle themselves. Hansen, Higgins, Santorelli have been dynamite when grouped up on the team's current road trip. And while Richardson is better on the fourth than the third-line, he did pretty well between Booth and Kassian against a deceptively deep Columbus team on Sunday.

If you're helping to preserve Kesler's health, and the depth players aren't getting unceremoniously pummeled: why not give the twins and Kesler a bit more time to gel before Alex Burrows returns?

Angus: I've been pretty surprised by the strength of Vancouver's depth in the early going, actually. The early returns on the two UFA forward signings (Brad Richardson and Mike Santorelli) have been very positive. Richardson has been fantastic on the penalty kill, and he has started to show why the Canucks targeted him this summer as a player with more upside than he had previously shown in his NHL career. Santorelli continues to prove he should be a mainstay in Vancouver’s top nine. He’s quick on loose pucks, versatile, and a creative playmaker.

Drance: Santorelli has been something of a revelation. Vancouver is outscoring opponents with him on the ice, and controlling nearly 60% of shots (not attempts, actual shots on goal) when he's on the ice at five-on-five. In other words: he's shown himself to be a useful second or third-line forward (a tweener, as it were) in the early going. The way he's trending: he'll get signed to a contract with a no-trade clause in no time!

Curious Santorelli stat: he's won 40 face-offs, while losing only 22 so far this season. Last season he won 26 of 42. Santorelli was never a great face-off guy early in his career (in fact he was mostly a winger when he scored 20 goals that one time) and these are tiny samples. But, yeah, it's probably worth seeing what he can do in the circle. He wouldn't be the first face-off specialist to find a new sustainable level of performance seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of his career...

Angus: Yeah it's worth a shot. 

Speaking of miniscule samples: though his Canucks career is only one game and just over four minutes long, Jeremy Welsh did show some good things against the Blue Jackets on Sunday. He was a player who the Hurricanes had high hopes for coming out of college (Welsh scored 27 goals in his final season at Union College in 2011-12). For whatever reason, he failed to find his offensive game for Carolina’s AHL affiliate. The team only gave him six games of NHL action before deciding he wasn’t a part of their organizational future. Welsh is a good skater and brings size to Vancouver’s fourth line. He isn’t going to set the stat sheet on fire, but Vancouver needs to solidify its fourth line in a hurry.

Drance: Welsh flashed some speed on Sunday. At the very least he's able to apply pressure when forechecking and has some ability to possess the puck through the neutral zone. I'd imagine he's earned himself a longer look at the NHL level, and certainly looks like a guy who could contribute usefully in limited minutes on the fourth-line.

I've been more impressed by Ryan Stanton this week, however. Not only did he score his first NHL goal, but he just looks composed and collected in a third pairing role along the blue-line. I wrote at length about how the Canucks should be looking for "the next Aaron Rome" this offseason, and Stanton was precisely the type of low-risk gamble the Canucks needed to make to flesh out their blue-line depth. The early returns on Stanton's performance have been auspicious.  

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Predictions:

Angus: The brutally tough road trip continues this week with stops in Long Island, New Jersey, and St. Louis. The Islanders are one of the most dynamic young teams in hockey and that will be a great game to watch.

Drance: I think we should dub the Islanders/Canucks game the waiver wire grudge match. Clearly with the poaching of Mike Stanton from Chicago, Mike Gillis has stolen Garth Snow's waiver wire thunder this season. I like to imagine that the Islanders General Manager doesn't appreciate it. 

Angus: The winner of the waiver wire grudge match should get to wear 3 foot tall shoulder pads.

Drance: Kay Whitemore would never allow it!

Angus: Elsewhere the Devils and Canucks are already getting their second matchup of the season out of the way, and it is now Roberto Luongo’s turn to enter Cory Schneider’s domain. Vancouver’s toughest road game of the entire trip comes on Friday in St. Louis. The Blues are big, deep, and talented. They are arguably a better version of the Los Angeles Kings. On the back end, no NHL team can match the combination of size and mobility that St. Louis possesses. Up front, their forwards are tall and heavy (and the ones that aren’t – like Vlad Sobotka – play like they are).

Drance: Sobotka is such a beast. One of my favorite weird Twitter moments of this season was when the Blues put Sobotka on the fourth line and newly retired center Andy MacDonald bitched about the coaching decision on Twitter. Shortly thereafter, Hitchcock gave Sobotka a spin with the Blues third line and he scored a critical game tying goal. Just hilarious.

Angus: The Blues game also marks the first time that the ghost of Derek Roy faces off against his former club… but does Roy really count as a former Canuck? What a forgettable tenure that was (and it started so promising too). St. Louis is going to be awfully tough for any team in the West to beat in the postseason this year (looking ahead, I know).

Drance: Who is Derek Roy?

Angus: ... *throws tomato*

Anyway, The Blues are getting contributions from almost everyone to start this season, save for Chris Stewart (zero goals and two assists in seven games). Their ice time distribution (only two players average over 20 minutes per night – Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester) speaks to their impressive depth at both forward and defense.

If I were a betting man, I’d expect the Canucks to snag four of six points during these final three games. Even though it is the tail end of a long road trip, I have really liked how they have been playing as of late. Their tenacity, structure, and ability to generate pressure for more than 20 minutes per game is a welcomed sight to say the very least. Let’s go with wins over the Islanders and Devils, with a tough loss against the Max Lapierre-less St. Louis Blues.

Drance: I'm with you that the Canucks have been playing better, but I think they'll finish off the road trip 1-1-1 (with a win over New Jersey, a shootout loss on Long Island and an outright loss in the midwest).

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 JCDavies
October 21 2013, 09:05PM
Trash it!
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trashes
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props

@Angus and Drance

What do you guys think of the Canucks inability to draw more penalties while controlling play like they have? Is this just variance or something more substantial?

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#2 DCR
October 22 2013, 08:51AM
Trash it!
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trashes
+1
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props

Yeah, I'd love to see something done on that. It just seems to fail the eye test that they aren't drawing more penalties when they have the puck so much of the time.

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