Game Review WCS GM5

Goats Alex Edler and Henrik Sedin skate past the celebrating Predators after Nashville defeated Vancouver 4-3 on Saturday night.
(Photo by Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last night, the Canucks failed to close out their second round series against Nashville – losing 4-3 at home. The loss was followed by inevitable hand-wringing from fans and media, but this somewhat irrational despair ignores the fact that the Canucks outplayed the Preds in nearly every respect. The Preds had the edge in two major categories: goaltending and goals scored. Unfortunately those are the most important categories. Nonetheless, the Canucks performance was solid, and I see no reason for panic. The Canucks out possessed, out-hit, out-chanced, out-shot, and – with the exception of Henrik Sedin (more on this in a minute) – they dominated the face-off circle against the Preds.

The game reminded me a lot of the 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks in game 6 of the first round. In that game the Canucks also carried the tempo, and the balance of play, but lost. That loss, like last night’s loss, were due partly to stellar goaltending and opportunistic scoring from the opposition – however, both losses occurred mostly because of the Canucks own unique brand of brain-farts, bad luck and unforced errors. If the Canucks repeat their performance tonight and simply cut down on mistakes (there were many mistakes – a SHGA, blown defensive coverages, costly turn-overs and Edler even scored on his own net) – this series will not see a game 7.

The Sedins are going to be widely criticized for their performance last night. Currently on laptops across North America there are countless articles, columns and blog-posts being written that will combine the Sedins +/- (-7!!!) and perpetuate the narrative that the Sedins are playoff “chokers” who consistently fail to raise their game when it matters… I mean, have you seen Joel Ward – he’s out-producing the Sedins over a miniscule sample size while shooting 21.7%! DUSTIN BFUGLIEN 2.0! Simply put, the Sedins haven’t been as lucky as Joel Ward, which, is not to take anything away from the talented checking winger with solid finish, who has played out of his mind. The fact is, criticizing the Sedins for their -7 is pretty silly, especially because they were each +10 in scoring chance differential. It’s also silly grounds for criticism because there are other much more valid criticisms one could make.

Despite his solid Corsi number and +10 chance differential, it’s my impression that Henrik had a weak game. I can’t help but think that he’s nursing an injury. Not that injuries are an excuse at this time of year – but he hasn’t looked like himself over the last few games. Where I think criticism of his play last night is well deserved is in two areas – his decision making on the rush has been predictable and ineffective, and his performance in the face-off circle was dismal (40%, 9 wins in 22 tries).

I am patient with the Sedins – they know better than I do how goals are manufactured – so I rarely accuse them of over-passing or anything like that. But even I yelled at the TV a few times on the rush when Henrik passed the puck, rather than keeping it simple and shooting the puck from a dangerous area. Last year in the playoffs Henrik Sedin scored a beauty on the rush by shooting the puck – and I want to see more of the same from him. (*) I was also rather frustrated when Hank lost the games final face-off. When you’re the team captain, who is -4 on the night – that’s a face-off you at least have to muck. Hank lost it cleanly.

(*) Remember while watching that video that the Sedins aren’t clutch at all, they never have been.

3 Big Stats:

1. -7, the Sedins combined plus-minus. Apparently this means something – but actually it doesn’t. A quick note to hockey writers, why does it makes sense to count goals twice when you’re seeking to point out how terrible a line’s performance was? How does it make sense to talk about the Sedins being -7 in a game where only 4 goals were scored against Vancouver? Without even mentioning that plus-minus is a luck stat, it’s pretty clear to me that combined plus-minus is puffery – it does nothing to advance our knowledge of the game. If I wrote that Daniel-Henrik are great, because they combined to go +70 this season, would you think that made sense as an argument? You wouldn’t. And besides is it really not incriminating enough to note that Henrik was on the ice for all four goals against? Please stop this madness.

2. 29.2% – the percentage of the time Ryan Kesler started in the offensive-zone at even-strength last night. Considering that, in games 3 and 4, Kesler started over 60% of his EV shifts in the offensive-zone and was very successful, this change in his deployment is mind-boggling to me. I’ve been so happy with the Kesler adjustment,  so I’m disappointed to see him playing tough-minutes when he’s terrorized Nashville when his zone-starts are sheltered. Why mess with success Alain Vigneault?

3. 5 goals, 3 assists, 3 games-played. Ryan Kesler’s stat line from the last three games played. Canucks fans – let’s not worry too much about “Canucks-killer” Joel Ward when we’ve got Ryan Kesler “Preds-mass-murderer” on our side.

3 Big Moments:

1. I’m going to go with David Legwand’s second goal as the games biggest moment. Early in the second period with the Canucks holding a one goal lead – Joel Ward feeds David Legwand behind the net. Ehrhoff and Raymond stay in the passing lanes and don’t really check Legwand who casually flips a bank-shot from behind the goal line, off of Alex Edler, and into the net. Tim Duncan would be proud.

This goal encapsulates the entire series for the Canucks. The Predators were one hundred seconds and a fluky bounce off of a bad centering attempt by Ryan Suter away from being swept. Instead the Canucks are boarding a flight to Nashville to play against a hungry, committed crowd of Nashvillians on Monday night. Thems the breaks.

2.  The games second biggest moment: Joel Ward’s game winner. Christian Ehrhoff’s check on Ward is actually effective but the puck’s momentum carries it out front where Alex Edler is in good position to clear. Sadly, because Edler was having "one of those nights" Edler whiffs and the puck goes straight to Joel Ward who makes no mistake…

3. Finally a highlight we can all enjoy. Ryan Kesler makes Shea Weber look silly on his first goal of the night. Ryan Kesler may be a punk, he may embellish on occasion, and he’s certainly a heel – but boy, oh boy, is he ever bad-ass at hockey.

Also can we take a moment to credit the pass from the much-maligned Mason Raymond. I looked at the increase in Raymond’s even strength assist rate towards the end of the season. I posited that Raymond’s passing had improved enormously – even if his production and shooting % had dipped. Proof is, as they say, in the delicious pudding that is this highlight.

Game 6 goes on Monday night from Smashville. Can the Canucks exorcise the ghost of Lemaire and the 2003 Minnesota Wild, and finish the job against an inferior team? Tune in (I know you will).