Let’s see.. Defenceman scoring, tonnes of Canucks fans, only one Kings player in view …
And this was the first Canucks/Kings picture I found. Yep, don’t worry kids. they got this.
(Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
Thomas Drance, the fearless leader of our venerable blog, used his steadfast numbers to break down the Canucks and Kings series. He took off his Canucks hat to analyze the stats, he removed emotion and bias and determined that the Los Angeles Kings, by the underlying possession numbers, were downright frightening.
Now, it’s pretty hard to argue with Thom’s numbers, because he is damn good at breaking this stuff down to a level that even an idiot like me can understand. The only way to fight fire is to use fire. My fire consists of only a few stats, but plenty of yelling and arm waving and kicking things within my immediate vicinity.
Canucks fans are an irrational, emotional bunch, and so I shall placate our readers with a rebuttal of Thom’s preview. Contrary to the predictions of the "advanced stats" dudes that there are plenty of reasons why the Canucks will this series.
Click past the jump, because I’ve got five of them.
* The Canucks high-scoring defence. The Canucks boast 3 players in the top 25 defencemen in league scoring (Edler – 7th, 49 Pts; Bieksa – 13th, 44 Pts; Hamhuis – 24th, 37 Points) and this is a HUGE advantage, especially when facing a goalie as sharp as Quick. The Canucks will need to spread the opportunities around and create choas in front of Quick to beat the surefire Vezina nominee, and a strong offensive press from the Canucks blueline offers up the confusion necessary to beat him over the course of a seven game series. Five of the six Canucks defencemen who will start Game 1 registered a point against the Kings this season. The Canucks defence can and will make a difference on the scoresheet in this series.
* The Kings lack of depth at every position. The Kings have a WHOLE lot riding on the shoulders of Jonathan Quick. And rightfully so, as he’s been one of the league’s best goaltenders in the NHL this year. But if ANYTHING happens to Quick, the Kings are in for a very rough ride.
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that the Canucks go out and target Quick (much like I suggested about the Blackhawks and Jonathan Toews earlier this year), but the playoffs are well-known to be a war of atrition. Canucks players will get hurt and Kings players will get hurt. It happens when you play hard, physical, all-or-nothing hockey. If Quick has an off night or does happen to get injured, the Kings next option is Jonathan Bernier, who was quite lacklustre this season in incredibly limited action.
As Thomas pointed out in his preview earlier, the Kings D is very shallow, with no legitimate replacement options available. Voynov often puts himself in position to get tagged, Mitchell has had durability issues for years and Scuderi is old… As for the forwards, Gagne is out, Carter is hurting (and having a brutal year), Penner is at his Penner-y best, and they have a bunch of pugilists to round out the bottom of their batting order. Sure, the top 4 (Kopitar, Richards, Williams and Brown) are a formidable bunch but that’s it. If any one player goes down at any position, it is going to significantly strain the Kings depth. And we know, as some point, both teams are going to lose players.
* Roberto Luongo loves playing the Los Angeles Kings. Luongo played all four games against the Kings this year and finished 2-1-1 with a 1.96 GAA, a .944 Sv% and 1 shutout. Those are positively sparkling numbers and those should give Canucks fans reason to be incredibly optimistic. He does not have the same bugaboos with the Kings that he does with facing the Blackhawks, or the Bruins, or the Wild (in St. Paul).
Over the past two seasons, Luongo has averaged a 1.84 GAA and a .934 Sv% with only 15 GA on 8 GP, and 8 of those 15 goals allowed came in only two games (identical 4-1 losses). While the sample size may be small, the numbers clearly indicate that Luongo has played incredibly well against the Los Angeles Kings over the past two years.
* "Home-ice" advantage. While the Rogers Arena crowd may be an uninspired bunch over the course of 41 regular season home games, it gets pretty raucous during the playoffs. The suits in the crowd even manage to slip on a Canucks sweater. You won’t see more than a handful of visitor jerseys during the playoffs, except maybe for this guy. The same CAN NOT be said for Staples Center. Canucks fans travel VERY well to the Golden State, and have represented the team in startling droves when the Canucks play in California.
Expect the same when the series shifts to LA on Sunday, with Staples Center rife with Blue, Green and White sweaters. The Canucks have stated on numerous occasions that seeing the support that they receive when they travel is inspiring and motivating. While you won’t hear the overpowering sounds of Kings fans in Rogers Arena, you sure as hell will hear Canucks fans loud and proud in Staples Center.
* The shut-down effect of Samme Pahlsson. I quote the venerable Thomas Drance himself…
The teams "new" third line of Samme Pahlsson, Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen continued their run of strong play with a stellar defensive outing this evening. All three forwards played tough minutes, starting most of their shifts in the defensive zone against the Kings’ top-line of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown and they all came out ahead in terms of possession. Chris Higgins especially came on in the third period, when he personally took two of the Canucks five scoring chances, and Jannik Hansen was easily the best Canucks forward tonight.
What makes this third line so valuable, is what it allows Vigneault to do with Ryan Kesler and his linemates. Kesler played difficult minutes tonight, starting eight shifts in the defensive zone and facing a soft-matchup against the Richards/Carter/King line – but he also played five even-strength minutes against the Kings’ bottom-six forwards. With Henrik’s line soaking up the opposition’s top defensive pairing; and Pahlsson’s group neutralizing the oppositions top-offensive forward – Vigneault is able to play his match-ups to maximize the amount of ice-time Kesler’s group sees against inferior competition. Tonight, Kesler’s group didn’t take full advantage of these opportunities, but this deployment strategy makes the Canucks a matchup nightmare for opponents.
This was from Thom’s recap of the last Canucks/Kings game, and it was the only meeting between the two clubs since the trade deadline (when, importantly they acquired Samme Pahlsson). Pahlsson and the third line has proven to be an incredibly valuable asset and the numbers for this line against the Kings show that. HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES, DRANCE?!
The Pahlsson line completely neutered the Kopitar line on that night, limiting them to only 2 EV scoring chances. As Thom shrewdly points out, the deployment of the Pahlsson line frees up the Kesler line to be more of an offensive threat. It will prove to be a matchup nightmare for their opponents, Thomas. YES IT WILL.
So fret not, Canucks fans. While our own Doubting Thomas uses his #fancystats and attention to detail to signal doom and gloom and a first round exit, we know that, sometimes, numbers don’t tell the whole story. We also know that numbers can tell a lot of different tales. You just have to find the right numbers. I’ll counter Thomas’s prediction with one of my own.
CANUCKS IN 6.