Canucks drop 8-3 matinee in Detroit – Reasonable reaction is expected

Photo Dave Reginek via NHLInteractive

A game recap isn’t really necessary. The small, underlying events that define a single game have little meaning in the long run. Every botched zone exit, every giveaway, every blown coverage, every solitary, unrecorded play that somehow led to a scoring chance for or against gains anonymity the next day. At some point, people will forget what plays, exactly, Jason Garrison or Keith Ballard made that cost the Vancouver Canucks in their game against the Detroit Red Wings, they will just remember the plays existed. The recording of microstats is simply objective note-taking, and we don’t even have those. 

We don’t record the plays that led to certain events for or against. More developed hockey blogs are built prominently around recording zone exits and entries. Some teams track puck touches and passes to get a more accurate read on the things their team does. There is a problem when you watch a hockey game of confirmation bias, that you will perceive things only as you want them to be seen. If you showed a person a hockey game with all the scoring plays clipped out, it is unlikely they would have been able to tell which team won.

Had all the scoring plays been clipped out of the Canucks and Wings game, it would be 0-0 headed to overtime. Unfortunately, it was 8-3. 

-Most of the long-winded intro above is about the perception of Jason Garrison in Vancouver. I’ve watched a handful of Canucks games this season and while I haven’t been exactly impressed by his play, it’s been suitable and consistent to my expectations. I’m not expecting him to impress me or anybody—he’s a defenceman. His job is to defend against the opposition’s top lines, play big minutes and hopefully keep the puck out of his end. Generally he’s been doing that.

-The miscellaneous minutiae in Jason’s Garrison game can look ugly sometimes. He didn’t go undrafted because NHL teams did not know who he was. He looks a little slow at times and is awkwardly positioned inside the defensive zone. In an absolute vacuum, however, Garrison is effective at the NHL level because he is smart. When Garrison is on the ice, both this year, last year and the season before, the puck has generally spent more time in the opposition’s end than his own.

-You wouldn’t judge a pitcher in baseball by the sheer number of strikes he throws. You wouldn’t judge a quarterback in football by the sheer number of completions he throws. In other sports, you give a number of “attempts” in some fashion to these players. Baseball pitchers are measured by strike rate. Quarterbacks are measured by completion rate. Judging a defenceman solely on his poor passes or his giveaways, or his blown coverages takes away from the context. When a defenceman plays a lot, he is going to make more mistakes. When he plays against top-level competition, he is going to get beaten a lot more. But look at the attempts; pass attempts, shifts, opportunities… look at all of his chances as a backdrop upon which to judge the number of poor plays he makes. It is why defencemen are so cruelly mistreated by almost all fan bases. I write about the Toronto Maple Leafs often, and the comments section usually has very nasty words for Dion Phaneuf. But why? He is the Leafs’ best defenceman. To no extent am I calling Garrison the Canucks’ best defenceman this season, but he has been a solid player that can be counted on in most situations. 

-One of those situations doesn’t appear to be “the penalty kill in Detroit on the last Sunday of February”. Garrison is a big oh-fer on his career in that regard. The PK was the worst thing about the Canucks’ Sunday afternoon. In 6:37 of 5-on-4 time, the Canucks gave up six scoring chances. The expectation should be about two scoring chances per three minutes, so suffice to say the team was leaky. Garrison’s pairing was otherwise good in the first, on the ice for three scoring chances for and none against. By the time the Wings put the screws to the Canucks in the third period, the total was rung up against that pairing.

-At even strength, the Canucks’ big issue wasn’t on “D”. It was on “O”. Early in the second period, Zack Kassian drove to the net, got a good shot away before taking a real questionable goaltender interference penalty. This changed the game for a couple of reasons, the first being that the Red Wings scored on the ensuing powerplay to tie the game 3-3, and the second in that, well, the Canucks only generated a single scoring chance at even strength after that in the game: a Chris Tanev wrist shot with 11:08 to go in the third period.

-Most of my philosophy comes from the Peanuts cartoons by Charles Schulz. That strip has a recurring gag where Charlie Brown is the player-manager of a baseball team that plays a dog at shortstop and frequently loses 40 to nothing. He gets frustrated by his right fielder Lucy, “the worst player in the history of the game” although shares his wisdom with her after each of her miscues. At one time he tells her “a manager can always forgive a mechanical error, but a manager cannot forgive a mental error”. I think that’s appropriate across all sports. You can lose a game honestly, by making mistakes and not making plays. That happens.

-But Zack Kassian made two unfortunate decisions that cost the Canucks penalty time in this game. The first was going after Jordin Tootoo when Tootoo made an illegal hit on Chris Tanev. Kassian jumped in, picked up a deuce for roughing, and was lauded by the broadcasters for standing up for his teammate and, somehow by extension, costing his team a powerplay. Later in the game he took a misconduct which cost the team another two minutes for talking back to the referee. I understand a player like Kassian needs a bit of an edge to keep opponents on edge, but the Red Wings, for years, have had success as an unflappable, methodic unit. They don’t often cross that line, and have been a model organization for years. For the Canucks, there’s a line between “JerkPuck” and making plays that lead to penalties.

-The best enforcer, as we have said many many many many times on this blog, is a good powerplay. Score enough powerplay goals, and teams will be on their best behaviour.

-Roberto Luongo had his worst game in quite some time. He allowed 5 of 20 shots at even strength although did not get a lot of help. Two of those shots went off Keith Ballard. Another went off Dan Hamhuis. The second Damien Brunner goal was on him, but ultimately, four of Detroit’s eight goals were not registered as scoring chances. It sounds counter-intuitive, but for as many pucks that seem to go in off defencemen skates and sticks, a lot more pucks don’t go in in that same situation. 

-Jimmy Howard looked bad in the first. He allowed 3 goals on 7 shots, and the broadcasters speculated that Thomas McCollum may have to come into the game in relief. Had the Canucks kept up the pressure, it may have looked a lot worse on the goaltender with two first names. Unfortunately, there was the Kassian chance, a chance for Jordan Schroeder on the powerplay, and the Tanev chance after the first was out. Nothing for Vancouver.

-So what was the problem with the offence? It may have just been a bad night, but the puck was bouncing all over the place and it was impacting the Canucks’ ability to get clean zone entries. As much as fans will complain about the officiating, Jason Garrison, the goaltending, Jason Garrison, the national anthem singer, and Jason Garrison, the ice at the Joe was some of the worst I’ve seen NHL ice. It’s an old barn so you can’t expect the highest standards, but the Red Wings seemed to adapt better to the quirky bounces.

-When you can’t get luck, create it. The play of the game was Henrik Sedin’s dump to Daniel Sedin off the end boards that went for the 2-2 goal. I marked Henrik down for a “set up scoring chance” but I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a player use the boards to bank a pass. What a player.

-Henrik Sedin after 18 games has 17 points. Daniel Sedin’s individual shooting percentage, and Henrik Sedin’s on-ice shooting percentage, are both normalized. I am quite sure Henrik is just old enough to no longer be the point-a-game player people expect him to be. He is still a very good hockey player and a joy to watch, but he can no longer do it all anymore. He looked a little lost in his defensive zone tonight, although that’s to be expected of most scoring forwards. 

-Not a joy to watch: Andrew Alberts. Get well soon, Kevin.

-Here are the individual scoring chance numbers. I have heard of three of the Wings defencemen:

  Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Henrik Sedin 2 2 0
Alex Burrows 3 2 1
Daniel Sedin 2 3 -1
Ryan Kesler 2 3 -1
Chris Higgins 2 3 -1
Jannik Hansen 1 3 -2
Jordan Schroeder 2 3 -1
Zack Kassian 2 2 0
Mason Raymond 2 2 0
Maxim Lapierre 1 1 0
Aaron Volpatti 1 1 0
Dale Weise 1 2 -1
Jason Garrison 3 5 -2
Alex Edler 3 4 -1
Dan Hamhuis 2 2 0
Chris Tanev 3 1 2
Keith Ballard 0 3 -3
Andrew Alberts 1 3 -2
  Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Pavel Datsyuk 2 2 0
Justin Abdelkader 2 2 0
Dan Cleary 2 1 1
Damien Brunner 4 2 2
Henrik Zetterberg 3 2 1
Valtteri Filppula 3 2 1
Tomas Tatar 1 2 -1
Patrick Eaves 1 1 0
Joakim Andersson 3 1 2
Cory Emmerton 2 2 0
Drew Miller 2 1 1
Jordin Tootoo 2 3 -1
Jonathan Ericsson 3 2 1
Niklas Kronwall 3 1 2
Ian White 2 4 -2
Brian Lashoff 1 3 -2
Kent Huskins 4 3 1
Jakub Kindl 5 1 4

-And the team totals:

  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Vancouver (EV) 5 (5) 1 (1) 2 (1) 8 (7)
Detroit (EV) 5 (3) 7 (3) 3 (3) 15 (9)

CanucksArmy Three Stars:

  1. Damien Brunner
  2. Niklas Kronwall
  3. Pavel Datsyuk
  • BrudnySeaby

    Someone dropped a grenade in Detroit. That was some game. I’m sure Gillis had AV on line one the second the game ended, “You know this guys on the trading block, right?”

  • Luke

    What are the chances that the Canucks trade the Sedins next year before they hit free agency?

    I’m thinking of how the Canucks handled Markus Naslund – post-2004 lockout – and starting to have recurring nightmares. Its better to get something for them rather than watch them decline and then get nothing in the end.

    • BrudnySeaby

      I can’t imagine they’d trade ’em. Yeah, they’re a little older, but they’re still pretty close to their prime and still the Canucks’ best players. They’re also the faces of the franchise, I mean from a media and marketing standpoint. No other team can say they have twin scoring leaders/ league mvp’s.

      Also, you’d have to assume they’d stay as a duo wherever they go, which is a big cap hit for a team to take. There might be a couple teams that can take the hit, but then you’re looking at their age again. I think it’s more likely Gillis re-signs them at a slightly reduced rate for a couple of years, then re-evaluates.

      Yay rambling.

    • Graphic Comments

      Don’t worry, Cam is way off the mark about Hank. The Sedins aren’t going to age like most players largely due to their conditioning and gameplay style. The Sedins really are exceptionally fit and this will help mitigate the damage of age and injuries. More importantly, the Sedins play a game that is very dependent upon accurate passing and accurate shooting, and these are skills that age better than some others (for example, speed… Selanne being an exciting exception to the rule). They aren’t particularly physical players so that should help minimize physical damage, although they do get hit a lot. That said, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect Hank and Danny to continue to be 70-85 point players until they’re 34,35, maybe even 36 years old depending on injuries and the quality of players they are skating with. Of course, we wont know until we see because the Sedins are rather unique talents so its impossible to know how age will affect their play. As for Naslund, come on man! Naslund was one of the greatest Canucks of all time and our captain at the time! I don’t wish that the Canucks had traded him, I wish that he had retired a Canuck. It would have been much more appropriate than finishing with the lame NY Rangers… I will always hate the Rangers… and Mark Messier

  • BrudnySeaby

    Great blog, love reading it and you are bang on the vast majority of the time. One thing I disagree with you on is Kassian sticking up for his teammate. In the regular season I will give you the benefit of the doubt when you say that that was a stupid penalty to take. The playoffs are a totally different story; we need a guy like Kassian to stick up for the team (nightmares of Marchand punching Daniel Sedin about 5 times, and no one was there to defend him). Is it bad he took the penalty? Yep. Would he get that penalty in the playoffs? I don’t think so. Ideally the Canucks could get by on skill, speed and goaltending; realistically, you have to have a hard-nose presence in order to win the Stanley Cup.

    Let me know your thoughts.

    Keep up the good work!

    • The rules don’t change in the playoffs. The Canucks big problem in that series is that they went 2-for-thirtysomething on the powerplay. I mentioned in the next graf that the best enforcer is a deadly powerplay. One day I may even prove the assertion…

      • Well… the enforcement of the rules changes, since the whistles go away to a large extent, but you are correct, the best deterrent is a good PP, not a good enforcer.

        The much talked about Marchand punching Daniel incident… he did get a penalty (eventually), but the Canucks didn’t score.

        And at that point in the game, it was late in the third and the game was out of hand, so the Bruins didn’t care anyways about the PP.

        If people want to talk about the playoffs and toughness, I just point out the Western Finals vs the Stanley Cup Finals.

        Canucks killed the Sharks on the PP. Ben Eager basically handed the series to them.

        But 2011 Tim Thomas + Chara = ability to not give a damn about taking penalties.

        • Yeah, the score was 5-2 when Brad Marchand punched Sedin. There was 1:31 left in the game. Somehow, I don’t think a fighter would have made a difference…

          You’re correct to point out that the Canucks crushed the Sharks on the PP that series. Part of the reason I have to believe San Jose didn’t bring back Ben Eager.

    • Mark, I understand where your emotions come from. We hate to see other teams to do stupid things to the players we love.

      But doing something *after* it’s happened doesn’t change anything. Brad Marchand being popped in the head *after* he punches Daniel does nothing. The real problem, to re-open an old wound, is that the Canucks couldn’t score on the powerplay against the Bruins. Remember how they made Ben Eager look stupid? That was because they kept scoring on Eager-created powerplays. The Final saw none of that. If they had scored on just a few more of their numerous powerplays, like they did in every other round, then the narrative would never be be that the Bruins were ‘tougher’.

      Zack Kassian should save himself for his next shift against Tootoo and put him through the glass, with a good, legal check, just like we know he can. Of course given the debacle everywhere else, that really may not have mattered; but it wouldn’t have taken a crucial, game-turning powerplay away from the Canucks.

      • Part of being a good tough guy is recognizing when to go after someone.

        Kassian should have recognized:

        A) Tanev was fine and popped back up right away and skated to the bench

        B) The player in question was Tootoo, and you should know he isn’t going to fight

        C) The ref was standing right there calling the initial penalty

        D) The Canucks were up 3-2 against a tired and mentally fragile team, a 4-2 PP goal might end it.


        Now if Tanev WAS laying there hurt, or the player in question was someone who actually would drop the gloves (ie. Eager for example, or Clutterbuck, etc) or the ref hadn’t called the penalty, or this happened when the game was already out of hand and 7-3… then that changes the equation

        • Mantastic

          I agree with Cam and Patrick that the PP is the key to everything (and am, at present, mouthing off about the pointlessness of “sending a message” on Pass it to Bulis, which will inevitably result in a cascade of downvotes).

          But I also wanted to add — if it *was* a guy like Eager or Clutterbuck, it’s even more pointless. Those guys are even less afraid of a hockey fight than Tootoo is. So really what does engaging them in a boring scrap accomplish with respect to deterrence? Even less.

          Even with a guy like Tootoo — he does what he does to stay in the NHL. He is not afraid of Zack Kassian hitting him a few times. I mean Kassian was right on the ice.

          • Graphic Comments

            I meant that if it was say Eager, he’d drop the gloves and fight back. And since the original penalty was already called, Kassian would be “sending a message” without cancelling the powerplay.

            If you can do that without taking your team off the PP, why not? (Assuming we are talking about a typical enforcer, not someone like say Lucic who would be on the PP himself)

  • BrudnySeaby

    @ Luke. I would say (and hope) those chances are 0. The Sedins will retire here, and deservedly so, after a new contract! And I think you can count on those 2, who are more critical of themselves than all fans (and media alike), to announce their retirement if they feel they can’t give the team what it needs or live up to their own expectations. I hope you trust their good judgement, as you should!

  • Graphic Comments

    Here’s the real issue with Kassian’s reaction to the hit on Tanev: even if you think it was worth taking the team off the power play to stand up for his teammate, he didn’t even do that. He got a roughing penalty for shoving Tootoo. Anyone that really thinks exacting violent retribution has some redeeming, intangible value, should be all over Kassian for not actually beating on Tootoo.

    Also, I know we can’t hang the loss on Luongo, but didn’t I say he doesn’t do well in early games? 😛

    I’ll hang up and listen.