I’ve been delighted to see how three games can change the perception of a player. The Ryan Kesler bandwagon is in full swing, with the shutdown of the Toews line approaching the status of legend and his recent outburst against the Predators erasing the memories of his offensively inept first round against Chicago.
The flip side, at least in some quarters, has been the disparagement of the Sedin twins (pictured above).
Damien Cox, as he often does, stands out as a particularly excellent example of the prevailing narrative. Here are some of my favourite excerpts:
[T]he lesson of Game 3 [against Nashville] is that, sure, the Canucks can apparently continue to win without even the slightest contribution from the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, at least as long as Ryan Kesler continues to be what he’s been all season, and that’s the MVP of the Vancouver squad and, in the books of this writer, a deserving Hart Trophy candidate.
As much as Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault can try to persuade the media that the twins were effective participants in Game 3, they were ghosts once again. So far in 10 playoff games, Henrik has no goals, three assists and is a minus-6; Daniel is marginally better with five goals and a minus-4 rating, but the 2011 Art Ross Trophy winner has only one goal in his last six games. But it’s as though the more they fade into the background, the better the Canucks get.
The Sedins don’t kill penalties, so a Vancouver penalty just gets you more Kesler.
[I]t’s much easier to neutralize scorers like the twins than two-way players who like to hit, chirp, hack, score and block shots.
Thirteen forwards have played for the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 playoffs. Of those 13 forwards, four of them have more than three points: Ryan Kesler (11), Daniel Sedin (9), Henrik Sedin (8), and the Sedin’s regular linemate, Alex Burrows (8). So, to be clear: with the exception of Ryan Kesler, who has a lofty two-to-three point lead on each of the Sedins, the Canucks’ first line is the only line that’s scoring.
What about even-strength scoring? Well, golly gee, it turns out that Ryan Kesler, stellar two-way forward and noted hitter, chirper, hacker, shot-blocker, and scorer has five even-strength points. That, for the record, is the exact same total as ghost-like Daniel and one point less than the ‘marginally worse’ Henrik. The reason Ryan Kesler is ahead in overall scoring is because of his power play prowess, which generally doesn’t get mentioned – probably because while it’s a great way to chalk up points it doesn’t fit very well with the narrative of the chirping, hacking, rough and tumble American gritting his way to victory.
I don’t mean to belittle Kesler here. His performance through these playoffs is getting more attention than it should – in Round One he was outplayed by the Toews line, and got very lucky not to be buried in red coming out of that series. Speaking of which, here’s a fun statistic: at even-strength against Vancouver, the Toews line managed a 1.72 shooting percentage. In the regular season, they managed a 10.11 shooting percentage. In other words, either the Kesler line fluked out that a bunch of scoring chances for the Toews line didn’t end up in the back of the net, or they have the ability to drop that line’s shooting ability by a factor of six. Speaking as someone who watched Toews bang his stick in frustration again and again after five-bell chances didn’t work out, I know what I’m betting on. That said, there’s no shame in being outplayed by Jonathan Toews, and Kesler has been very, very good against Nashville.
Then there’s the scoring chance data. The Sedin twins had some bad games in Round One (particularly those games where the entire team fell into the tank), but overall they out-chanced their opponents by a wide margin, while a guy like Kesler was actually in the red. That continued into the first two games of the series against Nashville (the Sedins were especially good in overtime of Game Two), although in games three and four Kesler was clearly driving the bus.
Maybe that scoring chance data is irrelevant. Maybe it’s irrelevant that the Sedins have better shots for/against totals. Maybe the fact that Kesler’s on-ice save percentage is 0.973 while the Sedins are both hovering around 0.880 is a testament to Kesler’s chippy, jammy, defensive brilliance, and the Sedins inability to perform in games that actually matter. I doubt it very much, though. I’d bet heavily that this is a small sample size issue, and that we’ll see the save percentage numbers regress heavily to the mean over time.
It’s just a shame that ‘regression to the mean’ is a lamer narrative than ‘tough North American player who plays hockey the way it was meant to be played trumps enigmatic Europeans.’