Sharks, Couture Take Game 1 and Home Ice Advantage from the Canucks

Logan Couture powered the Sharks to victory in Game 1 of their first round series against the Canucks.
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

On Wednesday night the Vancouver Canucks opened the 2013 playoffs with a three to one loss at home against the San Jose Sharks. For the most part the game unfolded as we expected as game one was tightly contested, evenly matched, and extremely physical. There isn’t a lot of daylight separating the Sharks from the Canucks in terms of overall team quality, and on a night where a sixty minute effort was required from the hockey club in order to stack the deck in their favour, the Canucks only really gave twenty.

It was the team’s fifth straight home loss in the postseason dating back to game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, a fact that might provide us with a partial answer to the question, "why aren’t Canucks playoff tickets selling like hot cakes this spring?"

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Read past the jump for more analysis and scoring chance data.

Let’s begin with the scoring chance data, which for those of you who are new here are the core numbers we use to analyze the game (you can find the raw data and our criteria at the bottom of this post). In addition to outscoring the Canucks on Wednesday, the San Jose Sharks also controlled the chance battle with eleven quality looks to just eight for the Canucks. At even-strength the Sharks generated seven scoring chances while the Canucks only managed five on Antii Niemi. The Canucks actually recorded all eight of their scoring chances in a "score tied" game state, and seemed to have no real answer when the Sharks took a one goal lead mid-way through the third period…

The Sharks had an opportunistic game overall in that all eleven of their scoring chances were also shots on goal. Roberto Luongo stopped eight of those eleven "difficult shots," in addition to blocking all seventeen non-scoring chance shots he faced on Wednesday. Logan Couture’s game-tying goal late in the second came through multiple screens, and Luongo was tied up with Frank Corrado and Tommy Wingels on Dan Boyle’s game-winner and didn’t really have much hope of stopping either puck. In all Luongo was spectacular in the first period, and singlehandedly kept the game tied, solid in the second period, and had a tough third period in which the Sharks scored on both of their scoring chances.

Antii Niemi put in some solid work in the Sharks net, but the Canucks made life way too easy on the unconventional Finn. Vancouver directed only five difficult shots at Niemi in Wednesday night’s contest, and he was up to the task on all of them. The only goal that beat him was put in by a teammate on a goal mouth scramble and that wasn’t recorded as a scoring chance. 

On the other hand, I suppose Niemi was beaten by a couple of pucks (one shot by Derek Roy in the first period and the other a shot by Daniel in the second) that ricocheted safely off the post. The Canucks have had success against Antii Niemi in the past, but they’ll find it difficult to recreate that success if they don’t figure out a way of generating more five alarm scoring opportunities going forward in the series.

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Going into this series we expected an even matchup. Wednesday night’s series opener delivered, but not quite in the way that we thought it might. Vancouver’s depth lines, for example, held up surprisingly well against the Sharks. While Ryan Kesler was clearly hobbled, he had a pretty dominant game at even-strength. With a slight defensive orientation to his deployment, and matched up primarily against Joe Thornton’s Ryan Kesler came out even by the scoring chance data and way ahead by the shot record. In all Vancouver outshot the Sharks nine to two with Kesler on the ice on Wednesday. That’s a really good sign for the team going forward, especially if Kesler’s fitness level improves over the course of this series.

It was a similar story with Vancouver’s third-line. I was pretty concerned about the size of a Derek Roy, Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond line heading into this series, but that group played at least three minutes against all of San Jose’s top three lines and came out ahead by attempted shot differential and only just in the red by the chance data. Of Vancouver’s five even-strength scoring chances, the third-line created three of them.

Even the fourth line, which honestly looked like it might be something of a complete liability heading into the postseason, played pretty well on Wednesday. Dale Weise took a dumb penalty early in the first period, but otherwise he had the sort of game that would make him a fan favorite if he played like that consistently. The fourth-line came out even by the chance and possession data, and that’s enough to qualify as a "pleasant surprise for me." I thought Desjardins, Burish and Gomez/Sherpherd would give Vancouver’s fourth group significant issues in this series, and they may yet, but that didn’t show up in game one.

The Vancouver line that didn’t surpass our expectations was the Sedin line. In our extended series preview I went on (and on, and on, and on) about how critical the matchup between Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the Sedin twins would be to deciding the outcome of this first round series. Well if Wednesday night’s game was any indication, then the Canucks may be in for a second straight extended summer. Vlasic was phenomenal on Wednesday, even as he took an awful lot of abuse (one thing the Canucks did really well all night was make a point of laying the body on Vlasic in particular when he went back to retrieve the puck). He completely swallowed up the twins, who were Vancouver’s only forward line that was outshot at even-strength. He did a hell of a job leaping into the counter-intuitive passing lanes the Sedins love to exploit, and I’m not sure he blew a single zone-exit all game long. If Vlasic can reprise his performance on Wednesday three more times over the next week or two, the Canucks are in trouble.

On the other hand, the twins just have to be better. They generated only one scoring chance at even-strength, and it was Alex Edler’s near goal in the second period – the puck that fluttered in the air and just missed dropping into the San Jose goal – which came just as a Sharks power-play expired. It came a fair bit after the Sharks power-play expired, i.e. it wasn’t like the fifth Sharks skater hadn’t re-entered the play, but the first unit’s personnel (so four forwards) were still on the ice. The twins need to step up in this series and do more to generate looks and test Niemi. The twins are fantastic players and proud guys, but game one qualifies as a "no show" for them, I think.

Along the blue-line I thought, and the data agrees with me, that Alex Edler was Vancouver’s best player. Though he benefitted somewhat from soft deployments he spent ten minutes against the Couture line and led all Vancouver defenceman in even-strength ice-time (something we don’t often see from him). He was second among all Canucks skaters in unblocked shot differential and a team leading +4 in scoring chance differential.

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Even in Edler’s strongest game in what feels like a season or two, he still had a couple of frustrating Edlerian brain farts. Like when he went behind the Canucks net in the third and Luongo told him to expect weakside pressure, and Edler still stopped to survey the ice before somehow being surprised by the Sharks forechecker he was warned about, getting flushed out, bobbling the puck and ultimately being bailed out by San Jose going off-side…

Jason Garrison and Dan Hamhuis weren’t used enough, in my opinion. Hamhuis played fewer than sixteen minutes at even-strength which is only four minutes more than Frank Corrado played and five minutes more than Alberts played. Not quite sure what Vigneault was doing there but considering that Dan Hamhuis is Vancouver’s best defenceman he should probably be playing more minutes in the postseason. Ya think?

Frank Corrado ultimately did get burned on San Jose’s game winning goal, as Wingels outmuscled him to get the puck over to Dan Boyle for the gimme. Corrado spent a good deal of ice-time playing against the Joe Pavelski line, and he’s been really impressive in his cup of coffee so fa, but the Canucks were outshot and outchanced with Corrado on the ice in relatively soft minutes…

I would say this wasn’t Vigneault’s finest performance. A coach can only do so much to impact the game but Henrik Sedin, in a game at home, was matched up with Marc-Edouard Vlasic for thirteen of his sixteen even-strength minutes.  McLellan had first change and even still I think it’s fair to say that he outfoxed Vigneault in getting the matchups he was looking for…

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The Sharks power-play is, yeah, scary. They generated ten shots, four scoring chances and a goal against the Canucks penalty-killers in under seven minutes of work. A couple of calls that went against Vancouver were weak, the phantom Dan Hamhuis slash in particular, but the Canucks are also going to need to be more disciplined going forward in this series. The onus in particular is going to fall on young guys like Weise and Kassian to keep their cool, both took untimely penalties in this contest. Frankly If I’m a Sharks veteran I’m trolling those two any chance I get, just trying to goad them into doing something stupid. I think we sort of saw Scott Hannan try that when he stood up and then face-washed Weise. Expect more of that so long as San Jose’s power-play looks as dominant as it did on Wednesday…

One final point. In a tied playoff game at home the Canucks managed zero quality looks in the third period. That’s embarrassing and also why I won’t defend the team too much for their performance on Wednesday. The fact is, the Canucks controlled this contest for the most part at even-strength, and ultimately lost thanks to a couple of odd bounces and San Jose’s absurdly good power-play. Usually after such a game I might say that the club got unlucky, except on Wednesday their penalty-killing was extremely permissive, the club barely tested Niemi, and they couldn’t generate a single scoring chance down a goal in the third period at home in a playoff game. That’s just nowhere near good enough.

Scoring Chance Data

A chance is counted any time a team directs a shot cleanly on-net from within home-plate. Shots on goal and misses are counted, but blocked shots are not (unless the player who blocks the shot is “acting like a goaltender”). Generally speaking, we are more generous with the boundaries of home-plate if there is dangerous puck movement immediately preceding the scoring chance, or if the scoring chance is screened. If you want to get a visual handle on home-plate, check this image.

Scoring Chance Totals

Scoring Chance Totals 1st 2nd 3rd Total
San Jose (EV) 5 (2) 4 (3) 2 (2) 11 (7)
Canucks (EV) 1 (1) 7 (4) 0 (0) 8 (5)

Individual Scoring Chance Contributions

Scoring Chance Contributions Taken Created Total
Derek Roy 2 0 2
Daniel Sedin 2 0 2
Alex Edler 1 1 2
Jannik Hansen 0 2 2
Jason Garrison 1 0 1
Kevin Bieksa 1 0 1
Mason Raymond 1 0 1
Alex Burrows 0 1 1
Chris Higgins 0 1 1

Individual Scoring Chance Differential

Scoring Chance Diff. EV F – A SH F – A PP F – A Total F – A
Dan Hamhuis 1 – 5 0 – 2 1 – 0 2 – 7
Kevin Bieksa 3 – 1 0 – 2 0 – 0 3 – 3
Jason Garrison 2 – 4 0 – 1 1 – 0 3 – 5
Zack Kassian 0 – 2 0 – 0 0 – 0 0 – 2
Alex Burrows 1 – 0 0 – 2 2 – 0 3 – 2
Derek Roy 3 – 4 0 – 1 1 – 0 4 – 5
Ryan Kesler 2 – 2 0 – 3 2 – 0 4 – 5
Chris Higgins 1 – 3 0 – 1 0 – 0 1 – 4
Mason Raymond 3 – 4 0 – 0 1 – 0 4 – 4
Daniel Sedin 1 – 0 0 – 0 2 – 0 3 – 0
Alex Edler 4 – 0 0 – 1 2 – 0 6 – 1
Andrew Ebbett 0 – 0 0 – 0 0 – 0 0 – 0
Frank Corrado 0 – 3 0 – 0 0 – 0 0 – 3
Dale Weise 0 – 1 0 – 0 0 – 0 0 – 1
Henrik Sedin 1 – 0 0 – 0 2 – 0 3 – 0
Jannik Hansen 3 – 4 0 – 1 0 – 0 3 – 5
Maxim Lapierre 0 – 1 0 – 0 0 – 0 0 – 1
Andrew Alberts 0 – 2 0 – 1 0 – 0 0 – 3

External Resources

  • I am in the minority, but I haven’t been discouraged by this at all. Every line played well but the Sedins; far too often that has been the other way around. The Sedins are two of the most consistent players in the game (yes, even in the playoffs) and I don’t see them getting shut down all series. Especially with Vlasic getting such a pounding from Weise and company, they should be back to their ice-tilting ways soon.

    The Canucks tonight, with the Sedins being as puck-dominating as usual, would have won handily.

  • yugret

    Great recap as always.

    What ever happened to the Canucks team who could dominate in the 3rd period. What an abysmal performance tonight. Total disappointment in the 3rd period -when it mattered most.

    Luongo wasn’t great either. The team needs to play a for 60, so does he. 3 goals on 11 scoring chances is an embarrassment for the playoffs – for a veteran. Schneider needs to get healthy ASAP.

    Sometimes I’m not even sure what team I’m watching out there. I’ve mostly accredited it to a shortened season, small sample sizes. But after watching this game, I’m just not convinced they’ve ever recovered from the SCF loss. Look at their lineup. It’s loaded relative to SJS who’s icing Torres and Wingles and other plugs in their top 9. I think there is a mental issues with this team related to the Cup final loss. They’ve never been the same, and they still have the same group.

    If they get ousted in the 1st or 2nd round again -they need to make some serious personal changes in the summer.

  • @Austin I don’t disagree. There were some definite positives and a lot of close calls. But VAN struggles to generate quality looks in the third + AV got schooled in the matchups. So yeah, I don’t think panic is the right response or anything – this series is a long, long way from over – but that was a pretty disappointing start.

  • Ya Sedin’s need to be better. I actually thought the Canucks played almost well enough to win, but just sort of laid down in the third. Very uncharacteristic. It used to be the second period was the period of death, but it was their best period. Do that for three and they will win the next game. Don’t do that, and it is over in 5, Av is fired, Gillis may also be gone, and there are big shakeup’s in the lineup. Wow being very fatalistic, I’ll feel better on Friday. Really…..

  • yugret

    As much as I’d like to be enheartened by good Fenwick numbers, it’s hard to get too optimistic about a team that’s come back to tie a series once (compared to 9 (!!!) blown series leads) since AV arrived.

  • yugret

    I live in Seattle and normally I watch Canucks games through CBC. Over the years I have become pretty fond of the staff there because “most” of the time they deliver an impartial view of the game. Last night I was forced to endure Bob Costas and NCBSN attempt at hockey coverage. Although I am a Canucks fan and I should have enjoyed the battle until the third I almost turned off the game during the second because of how bad the coverage was. They called D.Wiese Sedin repeatedly mistaking the Canucks star player with a fourth line grinder, every time a Shark got bumped they complained that the Canucks should have been penalized (yes the Canucks got away with some, but so did the sharks), during each intermission all they showed was highlights from East coast games that had ended. If I cared about the Boston game I would have watched it (which I did, but not the point). At times the chatter was so intense and unrelated to hockey that I had to mute the TV just so that I could see some momentum build. Unfortunately after a little research I realize that the Canucks will most likely have to advance to the second round before I will get a chance at CBC again.

  • billm

    Same ol song and dance from Van in the playoffs.

    17 goals now in the last 13 playoff games. On one hand you could say , can’t go back 2 years as a viable stat, but other than Kassian and Roy this is the same group of forwards as those series.

    AV getting his shorts handed to him on match ups is nothing new. While I don’t think he should shelter the Sedin line, when you have last shift, as a coach you have to take advantage of it.

    To the guy who said Lou wasn’t great, sorry but without Lou playing fantastic its 3-0 in the first for SJ. If the Canucks can’t find a way to score at a better than 1.3 gf per game, it won’t matter who is in net or how well they play. It pretty unrealistic to ask the goalie to pitch 4 shut outs in 7 games so the Canucks can win them all 1-0.

  • yugret

    @Thomas: The play-by-play was the feed from the Sharks broadcast team, so it’s somewhat understandable how biased the commentary was. Maybe it’s just the view from behind my blue-and-green colored glasses, but it seems the Shorthouse-Garrett team is rarely as biased as these guys were all night.

    I was hoping NBCSN would pick up the TSN feed, myself, but it looks like that won’t happen….

      • Mantastic

        I live in Milwaukee, WI and only watch for pure enjoyment of the sport. I completely agree with you that these two idiots are openly rooting for the Sharks. I just heard one of these douche-nozzles says “WE love to hear that…. if you’re a fan of the sharks”…. I absolutely hate when the commentators cannot be impartial. ruins the game

  • billm

    Pierre McGuire was going on about how the Canucks are the only team in trouble, they have no chance at coming back, all because they’ve lost the first game in a series on home ice, especially against such a weak away team like SJ.

  • @Mantastic he was just passing along a Pierre McGuire comment. SJ only own 8 road games and were only a shade over 50% by the poss. data on the road. So I think it’s fair to say that SJ seemed like a week road team this past year.

    Of course, VAN won more road games but were an even worse poss. team on the road…

    • Mantastic

      Sedins are ment to bring the offense, they are heads, shoulders and probably half a body lenght ahead of anyone else on that team. Really, their one job is just to score. the other 3 lines provide the defense.