Photo Credit Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty
On Wednesday evening, the Canucks will open their first round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are quite possibly the league’s single best special teams club, and the Canucks will be hard pressed to match them in this area.
One adjustment that could help is changing up the first unit so that it features Jason Garrison’s ridiculously powerful slapshot. I’m convinced that the Canucks need to add some heavy artillery to the first power-play unit, and I crunched some numbers in an attempt to prove it. Check it out after the jump.
Vancouver’s power-play has been significantly better since Ryan Kesler returned from his second injury of the season. That’s not surprising since Ryan Kesler is one hell of an offensive player, and also becasue the power-play couldn’t possibly have got any worse.
Down the stretch, though the power-play began to have more success, the Canucks continued to deploy their personnel in a bit of an odd way with the man-advantage. For example, the last time we saw the Canucks ice a full (or mostly full) lineup was against Anaheim on Thursday night. The first power-play unit that evening included four forwards (both Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows) and one defenceman in Alex Edler. The second unit included Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Derek Roy, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison. I don’t have a huge problem with Vancouver deploying their power-play personnel that way (though I might like to see Zack Kassian in a net presence role on that second unit), except for one thing: Jason Garrison needs to play with the first power-play unit in Alex Burrows’ stead.
If we crunch the numbers, that rather obvious notion becomes, well, even more obvious. What follows is a table that includes every Canucks skater who you might reasonably consider for power-play duty this postseason, with the exception of Zack Kassian and Jannik Hansen who have shallow track records at five-on-four. I’ve broken down each player’s time-on-ice in five-on-four situations over the past three seasons (five-on-three situations and four-on-three situations are exluded). The table also includes the number of goals each player has scored in five-on-four power-play situations, and each palyer’s five-on-four goal scoring rate per sixty minutes. Here are the results:
|Player||5on4 TOI 2010-11 – 2013||5on4 Goals||5on4 Goals/60|
|Daniel Sedin||679: 06||28||2.47|
|Ryan Kesler||583: 32||21||2.16|
|Mason Raymond||255: 16||8||1.88|
|Alex Edler||616: 34||15||1.46|
|Henrik Sedin||721: 25||16||1.33|
|Jason Garrison||401: 51||8||1.19|
|Derek Roy||426: 57||8||1.12|
|Alex Burrows||356: 38||5||0.84|
|Kevin Bieksa||322: 15||4||0.74|
|Dan Hamhuis||354: 20||3||0.51|
So there’s a couple of things worth pointing out. The first thing that jumped out to me is obviously Mason Raymond. The sample is small, but that actually works in Raymond’s favour here since the above table doesn’t even include Raymond’s 2009-10 season (when he scored eight goals at five-on-four in his "breakout" campaign).
Since then Raymond has disappointed at even-strength, but he’s still scored power-play goals at a very high rate. Raymond’s abillity to score on the power-play isn’t particularly useful for a Canucks team that loads up their first unit, but if I were a pro-scout employed by a club that struggles to manufacture offense with the man-advantage, I’m probably suggesting to my boss that he offer Raymond a contract this summer…
The second thing that should jump out at you is that Alex Burrows might not be particularly good on the power-play, at least when it comes to finding the back of the net. For a player who has scored goals at a super-elite rate at even-strength over the past five seasons, Burrows just hasn’t been productive enough with the man-advantage to warrant a regular slot on the first unit. He’s barely been more productive with the man-advantage over the past three seasons than Bieksa has.
Oh, and before you make an excuse like, "it’s the guys Burrows is playing with," remember that Mason Raymond has spent way less time with the first unit in the sample above than Burrows has…
The third thing that I notice is that Vancouver has two defenseman who, over the past three seasons, have scored at a really good clip at five-on-four. One of them is Alex Edler, and the other is Jason Garrison. Edler’s the better five-on-four scorer and is pretty much Vancouver’s power-play quarterback through the neutral-zone, so for those of you who think Garrison should take his place on the first unit, I think you should reconsider. But yeah, that leaves us with this softball question: should Jason Garrison play with the first power-play unit in the playoffs instead of Alex Burrows? Absolutely he should, and this isn’t something you need a spreadsheet to understand.
Based on the data, the Canucks have two super-elite power-play goal scorers in Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin. They have a third forward who scores at an okay rate in Henrik Sedin, but that forward is also the league’s premiere playmaker – so slot him onto the top-unit too. Then the Canucks have two defenceman who can produce goals from the back-end at five-on-four at a rate that would be considered "solid" if they were second line forwards. There’s really no excuse not to roll with that group of five as your first power-play unit…
As for Alex Burrows, three-hundred and fifty-six minutes isn’t a huge sample, so I don’t think we can definitively say that he doesn’t belong on the power-play. We can suggest from the available evidence, however, that Alex Burrows might not be as useful with the man-advantage as he is at even-strength and when killing-penalties. Until Burrows proves he’s able to be more productive in five-on-four situations, he very probably shouldn’t be on the top power-play unit considering the other options available (just my shap alert).
Down the stretch I thought perhaps the Canucks coaches were keeping Jason Garrison off of the first power-play unit because having him rip slapshots at the net in meaningless games with, say, Daniel Sedin providing the screen in is just playing with fire. But now that the games will really matter, and now that the Canucks are in tough against a polished special teams club in the Sharks, this adjustment is something of a no-brainer in my view.