Those who closely follow the Canucks have been aware that the team is on a pretty brutal slide lately. Since the game in Boston, the Canucks have been a below average possession team, earning just 37.6% of the score-tied shots,40% of the score-tied Fenwick events and 43.7% of the score-tied Corsi events. Anybody paying attention to the scoring chance data here at Canucks Army has probably noticed a similar effect there.
Despite this, the Canucks have had a 6-2-2 record, held mostly into games thanks to a .938 save percentage from their goaltenders (Luongo is a .943 in the games he’s played) which is simply unsustainable. The Canucks can’t continue to win games like this, and I’ve noticed in recent games that Canucks that a Canuck that has taken his lumps on the back end is Alex Edler.
Edler was separated from his partner Sami Salo after he missed a few games due to a concussion sustained in a collision during the game against Boston. Salo missed six games, a tough transition period for Edler, who has not played well defensively. Against Chicago, he was given the matchup against the Jonathan Toews line and got crushed. He has been the Canucks second worst regular defenseman by the score-tied Corsi measure (41.8%) ahead of only Aaron Rome. He had the most significant drop percentage-wise for the Canucks since the first part of the season (known as B.B. or ‘Before Boston’) when he had a 56% Corsi rate.
So why is this? My theory is it comes from extra ice time and matchups. Vigneault does not trust his bottom-end defense, often rotating Rome in and out of the lineup with Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts. As minutes increase, so too does the difficulty of minutes:
The x-axis is minutes played. The y-axis is Corsi Rel Qoc among players who played at least 60 games last season. As you can see, the more minutes a player sees, generally, the quality of his opposition will improve. Not that this isn’t one of the more obvious things in hockey: you can’t play 30 minutes a night without expecting to see a few minutes against the Zdeno Charas or Pavel Datsyuks of the world.
So what does this mean for Edler? Take a look at how his minutes have increased lately:
While Edler saw his toughest minutes around Game 21 of the season on average, lately he’s seen a sharp increase in usage. After Game 41, the prior to Boston, Edler’s overall ice-time average and his 10 game rolling average were identical at just under 23 minutes of play. In the last ten games, Edler has seen an average of 25:42 minutes and has frequently come on the wrong side of the scoring chance charts. Despite a +1 finish against Colorado, Edler was -15 in the three previous games against Edmonton, Chicago and Detroit.
I don’t think that Edler has the capacity to handle to extra minutes. The Canucks need to make a play on a defenseman to play 17 minutes a night: last season, the Canucks had six of those. This year, they’re only at four. The longer they wait, the more losses the team will eventually bleed when the goaltending comes back down to earth.