Where the Mild Things Are

Thomas Drance
February 07 2013 11:53PM

 
Mason Raymond ices the win in Vancouver's 4-1 loss over the Minnesota Mild (TM @SocialAssassin2).

Coming into Thursday night's convincing 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild, the Vancouver Canucks had been the only division leader in the league who had yet to really impress anybody. Maybe that sentiment is too negative, certainly the goaltending has been stellar (unsustainably stellar, actually), but it's fair to say that the majority of observers (fans, media, whatever) have found the club's conservative low-event stylings, the paralytic power-play, and the inability to hold two goal leads to be concerning.

I think the mood has shifted a bit following Vancouver's comeback win over the Oilers on Monday, and their blowout of the Wild on Thursday. These were supposed to be the two teams that were improved enough to challenge the Canucks' stranglehold on Northwest Division supremacy! At least they were supposed to be able to hang around in the standings until Ryan Kesler returned to Vancouver's lineup. But that hasn't been the case, as the Canucks have proven cagey enough - or perhaps it's that their goaltending has proven stingy enough - and the team has managed to pick up points even on off nights. 

At long last on Thursday night in Minnesota, the Canucks brought it out of the gate and put away an inferior opponent early. This was not an off night for the club. Read on past the jump.

  • We'll start, how else, but with the most important numbers. The Vancouver Canucks were out-chanced by the Minnesota Wild by a final tally of 15-8. The Wild did most of their damage on the power-play recording eight scoring chances with the man-advantage. At evens, the two clubs recorded seven scoring chances a side, but obviously that number is "score effects" inflated. In fact the Wild only recorded a single solitary scoring chance in either a "game tied" or "game close" game state.
  • While the Canucks controlled this game and put it away early, Minnesota had a reasonable push back in the first fifteen minutes of the second period. In a four minute span from 3:58 to 7:58 of the middle frame, the Minnesota Wild managed six scoring chances, four of them "difficult shots" and Schneider was up to the task. In all, the Wild managed nine scoring chances in the period, none of which foiled Schneider. He stopped ten of eleven difficult shots on the evening, in addition to foiling 21 of 22 total Wild shots. So yeah, Cory Schneider is a pretty good goaltender and I think the Canucks should keep him.
  • Daniel Sedins goal to open the scoring was the result of shrewd opportunism on the part of both Alex Burrows and Daniel. Burrows took advantage of a very strange neutral zone bounce, as a slow rolling Dan Hamhuis pass ricocheted like cow manure off the wall beyond Vancouver's blueline. The bounce was tough to anticipate and it pulled the Wild out of position as Burrows streaked cleanly into the offensive zone with the puck. Burrows took a hard, low back-hander at Niklas Backstrom's far pad, and Backstrom spewed the puck into the slot right onto the stick of Daniel Sedin. Sedin, who had toughed out a hook from Zack Parise and still flat out beat the speedy American winger in a race to the front of the net, made no mistake on the loose puck.
  • Wait, Daniel Sedin beat Zach Parise in a foot race? 
  • It happened. Check it out:

  • Vancouver's second goal came right as a power-play expired, as Chris Higgins deflected a Maxim Lapierre shot from the top of the circle through Niklas Backstrom's five-hole. Nice to see Chris Higgins get a goal, he's been hounded for lacklustre play in the early going when really he's facing some of the hardest competiton on the team. You want to know who is really filling Ryan Kesler's role in the two-way centre's absence? It's Higgins, who has spent every game chasing around the likes of Kopitar, Getzlaf, Kane and Hemsky. The next time you see Higgins struggle to skate out a rush on the counter attack, just remember that what he's doing is more like - to use a basketball analogy - ace Spurs defender Bruce Bowen (back in the day) spending an entire offensive set waiting for the corner three after checking Kobe, than it is like"Higgins has lost a gear."
  • Defenseman Jason Garrison, who has been critcized extensively for his rocky first month as a Canucks blue-liner (though I continue to be impressed by his possession game, frankly), picked up an assist on Higgins' goal but he wasn't all that involved in it really. Assist and especially secondary assists, are kind of stupid.
  • Which is sort of why, I think, the Rogers Sportsnet broadcast was so insistent about Jordan Schroeder being credited with an assist on Mason Raymond's second period power-play goal. On Mason Raymond's goal, Jason Garrison shoots a puck through traffic and it ended up on Jordan Schroeder's stick in the slot. The impressive rookie centre - for whom, Thursday night's game was a homecoming - dove and took a dangerous looking backhander that Backstrom stopped. The puck was swatted at by prone Wild defender Clayton Stoner, and rolled directly to Mason Raymond who deposited the puck neatly into the open cage from thirty feet out.
  • So to recap: Jason Garrison picks up an assist for a routine pass, but doesn't pick one up for a smart play to get a shot past the first defender. Meanwhile Jordan Schroeder doesn't get one for creating enough panic idown low that a Wild defender is forced to make a desperation swipe at the puck while lying on the ground, leading to Mason Raymond drilling the puck into an open net. Assists don't really tell you all that much about what a player has done to actually create a goal...
  • Mason Raymond certainly deserved his on Jannik Hansen's goal, however, as he flipped a pass up ice that Jannik Hansen caught and capitalized on to really, emphatically put the game away with just a minute remaining in the second period. In the third, on a non-scoring chance, Jannik Hansen drove down the right-wing and drilled a slapshot that flustered and handcuffed Josh Harding (he had replaced Nik Backstrom by this point) who couldn't control the rebound. I'd really like to see Jannik Hansen try shooting one of those from the slot, or from the top of the circle when the team is set up in the offensive zone. The velocity the Danish speedster gets on his slapper is a serious weapon, and if he can figure out how to harness it he might be able to improve on his 10.1% career shooting clip and turn into a consistent twenty goal scorer. At worst he'd create a tonne of rebound opportunities.
  • Vancouver's power-play managed to convert once tonight (and nearly twice, but missed out by a half of a second on Higgins' goal), but really it wasn't very good. Actually neither was the penalty killing, which looked a bit like a firedrill in the second period. But back to the first power-play unit which, in particular is just not producing much of anything in terms of shots or chances. Henrik Sedin, for example, wasn't "in" on the creation of a single scoring chance in Thursday night's game. That's cause for concern, because it's just happening way to frequently this season.
  • I really dig the Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins, Zack Kassian third line. Kassian proved he can be a regular option with the Sedins (perhaps in particularly chippy games, or when Alain Vigneault wants a big body to battle in front of the net against certain matchups), but realistically I'm not sure he's a "top-line" forward at this stage in his career. He's twenty-two so there's nothing wrong with that, but I do wonder if he's better suited to banging bodies and contributing offense occassionally in the third-line role. Kassian rrecorded two scoring chances against the Wild on Thursday, which was actually the most recorded by any individual Canucks skater. 
  • Jordan Schroeder has played well, especially on the power-play, but he was mostly started in the offensive zone in this game. That said he saw some tough competition (against Mikko Koivu's line) while the game was close in the first perio and impressively won one of two draws against Koivu and four out of seven draws against Brodziak - both of whom are quality faceoff men. That sort of performance will help keep him in the lineup. You have to think that Schroeder's play will have made Vancouver's decision about whether or not to keep him on the NHL roster or return him to the AHLwhen Kesler returns, a difficult one.

Scoring Chances

A chance is counted any time a team directs a shot cleanly on-net from within home-plate. Shots on goal and misses are counted, but blocked shots are not (unless the player who blocks the shot is “acting like a goaltender”). Generally speaking, we are more generous with the boundaries of home-plate if there is dangerous puck movement immediately preceding the scoring chance, or if the scoring chance is screened. If you want to get a visual handle on home-plate, check this image.

Individual Scoring Chance Totals

Player Chances Taken Chance Assists Total Chances
Zack Kassian 2 0 2
Mason Raymond 1 1 2
Daniel Sedin 1 0 1
Jason Garrison 1 0 1
Jannik Hansen 1 0 1
Jordan Schroeder 1 0 1
Aaron Volpatti 1 0 1
Dale Weise 0 1 0
Maxim Lapierre 0 1 0
Chris Higgins 0 1 0

Team Scoring Chance Totals

Team 1st 2nd 3rd Total
Vancouver (EV) 2 (0) 6 (4) 0 (0) 8
Minnesota (EV) 1 (0) 9 (3) 4 (2) 15

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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 Goaltending
February 08 2013, 12:23AM
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Does Gillis really want to trade a goaltender this yr? They've been the biggest reason Canucks are wining games right now.

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#3 Mack
February 08 2013, 01:38AM
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I dunno, if I'm Gillis I'm quietly letting it be known that Schneider is available for the right price. I've said before that the return for 35 with Lu in net is better for this team than the return for 1 with Schneider in net. It won't happen since management has clearly made up their minds, but the drop off between the two is insignificant, and Luongo will still be providing elite goaltending while this group has a realistic shot at winning. Schneider could get us the pieces that push us over the edge whereas I'm not sure Lu can. Opens up the teams interested as well.

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#4 van
February 08 2013, 04:13AM
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We'd trade Schneider if Gillis wanted to win now at any cost. He obviously believes the group we have is capable of winning, without any huge addition and so trading Luongo makes much more sense if the aim is to be perennial contenders. Frankly, unless the deal is very good, keeping them both until the end of the season would give us the best chance this season.

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#5 van
February 08 2013, 04:19AM
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sedin-sedin-burrows booth-schneider-kesler higgins-lapierre-kassian raymond-malholtra-hansen

with the offensive depth we have when booth and kes return, we could see the 3rd and 4th lines get a similar treatment to the 3rd line d paring

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#6 JCDavies
February 08 2013, 05:25AM
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This is a pretty good position to be in and Gillis could trade either goalie and I'm probably going to be OK with it. That being said, my preference would be to keep the younger goalie that would be here for a longer period of time. It is just too difficult to acquire good goalies and I would rather not live through another period like the decade-or-so before Luongo got here. The longer we can prolong needing to find our next "goalie of the future" the better. My preference would be to keep Schneider but keeping Luongo is a pretty awesome plan b.

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#7 Rob
February 08 2013, 07:46AM
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Have the Canucks outchanced their opponents in any game this year? Seems like every recap I read has them on the losing end of this tally (and often quite badly). Even without Kesler and Booth, that isn't very encouraging.

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#8 John Andress
February 08 2013, 08:42AM
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Rob wrote:

Have the Canucks outchanced their opponents in any game this year? Seems like every recap I read has them on the losing end of this tally (and often quite badly). Even without Kesler and Booth, that isn't very encouraging.

I agree that scoring chances are an important statistic however a more important statistic is wins and losses so whilst knowing that the Canucks are being outchanced gives the team a focus for "things to work on", the fact that they are 6-2-2 is very encouraging. It emphasizes, lest we forget, that hockey is a team game and this team as a whole, from the goal outwards, is playing well and getting better.

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#10 dan
February 08 2013, 11:08AM
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Thomas Drance wrote:

@Andress @Rob

The Canucks out-chanced the Avalanche and they've out-chanced other teams when it matters. Total counts can be deceiving so context is critical. In the first period, VAN had 2 scoring chances (and two goals) before the Wild managed their first. This game was never close and so, final count aside I'd say VAN won the chance battle.

A great recap of game.

However, There is conflicting evidence that score effects influence Scoring chances in the way implied.

For example, we know that a teams Sh% & Goal Rates increases when they are up. (& the converse is true -decreases when team is down)

So, with the Canucks leading(as was the case last night) we would expect the Wild to get more shots,& increase their Corsi(Possession) #'s (i.e. 'shot' effects) BUT not necessarily increase their quality & quantity of scoring chances. {Otherwise, we would see teams 'blowing leads much more often}.

From my research it IS a major concern that the Nucks are being outchanced.(regardless of 'score effects').

Conclusion: 1.It's clear the Canucks are relying on unsustainable goaltending. 2.When the Canucks play teams with better offensive skill(in playoffs) they will HAVE to have this 'great' goaltending to win.

Last year the Canucks were & average team in terms of ES chances - this year they are below average. The underlying fact is the team is regressing & not on a championship trajectory.

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#11 Graphic Comments
February 08 2013, 01:24PM
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van wrote:

sedin-sedin-burrows booth-schneider-kesler higgins-lapierre-kassian raymond-malholtra-hansen

with the offensive depth we have when booth and kes return, we could see the 3rd and 4th lines get a similar treatment to the 3rd line d paring

Whoa. Now there's a novel way to solve the Canucks' traffic jam at the goalie position. I never would have thought of this, given the lack of puck-handling skills that Schneider has shown so far...

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#12 BrudnySeaby
February 08 2013, 02:09PM
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@ Dan. The fact that the team is regressing, what is causing it? Inadequate coaching? Players are regressing in performance? Lacklustre attitude & play by some players? What would you recommend the club does to chance this?

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#13 Dan
February 08 2013, 03:18PM
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BrudnySeaby wrote:

@ Dan. The fact that the team is regressing, what is causing it? Inadequate coaching? Players are regressing in performance? Lacklustre attitude & play by some players? What would you recommend the club does to chance this?

Great Question Bruce

1. I posted in Feb 2012 that The Nux had failed to replace Ehrhoff. I argued that the Nux would suffer a huge fall without him both on PP & with Edler & Sedins #'s. He could play Huge minutes & do it well. He had tremendous synergy with Sedins & Edler. They dominated Possession #'s when on the ice.

The fact is they choose not to give him 5 mil for 7 years which would have kept him under team cap.was a mistake.

2. Most importantly, they desperately need a two way possession type third center, because Henrik is one dimensional(a great offensive talent) but can't play well against other teams top players. I suggested A. Vermette from CBJ - GMMG missed on him.Now I'm arguing fro B. Laitch -if they could get him out of Wsh, The Canucks must score ~3/G/gm for 25 games to win Cup. & the 2010 team WAS actually a better Scoring team than 2011. Av's idea of only a shut down third center is misguided like many of his ideas.

3. The Canucks are victims of their soft schedule & great goaltending & the Sedins def. weakness. Because they continue to have reg. season success there is not an incentive to return to their 2010 philosophy of pushing the puck/speed game which IMO is their only path to success.

To Summarize: they are two players away A third-line center who can also 2nd tour pk/pp (a mini-Kelser)

And a Top 2 D man to replace Ehrhoff - to run PP & improve Edler.(which now is unattainable due to Garrision mistake)

A change in philosophy from coach to play more up-tempo - which is not going to happen since he is having sucess in shutdown mode. In fact the numbers are falling to be equivalent to 2007 season.

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#14 JCDavies
February 08 2013, 08:55PM
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@Dan

I'm not convinced that the Canucks have regressed as much as you think they have. Are they as good as they were in 2010, probably not. But I don't believe that's from a lack of effort or a change in philosophy from team management. Good teams always lose players due to cap constraints; that's just an unavoidable side effect of being a successful team in a salary cap system.

I also think you might not be applying the right context to some of the conclusions you are drawing from your research. You wrote:

"From my research it IS a major concern that the Nucks are being outchanced.(regardless of 'score effects')."

Which is a valid concern, but then you say things like:

"The Canucks are victims of their soft schedule & great goaltending & the Sedins def. weakness. Because they continue to have reg. season success there is not an incentive to return to their 2010 philosophy of pushing the puck/speed game which IMO is their only path to success."

and:

"A change in philosophy from coach to play more up-tempo - which is not going to happen since he is having sucess in shutdown mode. "

And while I share your concern about the Canucks being out chanced as regularly, I think your conclusions ignore the rather large role injuries have had in determining what type of style the Canucks play. It has been a rather long time since the team has been healthy and I believe it would look a lot more like the 2010 team if I was healthy.

Like you, I believe that the Canucks have holes to fill if they are realistically going to compete for the cup but I don't believe you can conclude from the past 12 months that there has been a change in the philosophy of the organization.

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#15 dan
February 09 2013, 01:16PM
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@JCDavies

Thanks for your reply.

Fact: We agree that the Nux have moved from a team that out-chanced opp. to a team that is being out-chanced (in two year period). This IS regression.

So the question is Why?

You take the party line that injuries are the key component. Fair enough!

However, last year with a almost completely healthy team the Nux suffered the same drop in Poss#'s & scoring chances & PP eff. The Team itself admitted they changed the way they were playing? Not because of injuries because of emotional burnout? seriously? & this town bought it?

My point is they have lost their commitment to a style of play that dominated opponents.

They appear to be returning to a style that they played in 2007. The Twins even said last year its okay if we don't score & we can win 1-0 2-1 games. But all facts show you can't win a cup this way.

So when Kes & Booth get back we will see but the team needs to move from ~2.4 GF to ~3.2 GF/gm --- to be the type of team that can score 3.00/gm over 25 gms vs top comp. in playoffs.

I don't think its possible playing this conservative/defensive style & without replacing Ehrhoff & a third line center?

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#16 JCDavies
February 09 2013, 08:14PM
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@dan

Thanks for the reply.

I am definitely not towing any party line and I'm not arguing with your #s but I think you are basing your conclusions on a really small sample size (about 100 games) where the Canucks were never really healthy.

The Canucks began last season with several significant injuries. Kesler admitted he came back too soon from his surgery and Raymond also missed significant time to start the season and never fully recovered from his surgery either. Also, Hamhuis and Malhotra were coming off surgeries where they couldn't properly train in the off-season. The Canucks were a pretty unhealthy team to start the season.

The Canucks were also a pretty unhealthy team at the end of the season as well. They had significant injuries to Edler and Kesler and Daniel missed 12 games with a concussion.

And then there are the injuries to Kesler and Booth to start this season.

I don't believe that making decisions only based on data and overlooking what is actually going on with the team will lead to correct conclusions. The data needs to be used in the correct context.

If the Canucks return to full health (or close to it) and continue to play in a conservative style then I think it would be fair to suggest that there might be a philosophic change in the organization. I, personally, don't think that Gillis (or Aquilini) wants to play a conservative style and I don't think Gillis would commit to a conservative style without trying everything possible (trades) to win with an up-tempo possession style first. I expect the Canucks will return to that style of play when they regain their health and (possibly) make a trade or two.

To answer your questions: No, I don't think the Canucks can win four playoff rounds playing a conservative style.

As for Ehrhoff, is he missed? Yes. Do I think they can win without him? Yes. I don't believe Ehrhoff is one of those irreplaceable players that the team can't do without. While it would have been nice to keep him I think the team as a whole can make up for him being lost to Buffalo.

I believe upgrading the 2C (a healthy Kesler?) and 3C (trade?) positions is more important.

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