The Sea-to-Sky Boner Report: Dec 11th 2013

Jared Rathjen has provided the Giants with some much-needed stability in goal.

It’s been another successful stretch of games for the Vancouver Giants, as they went 3-1-1-0 over their past 5 games, but saw an 11-game point streak come to an end at the hands of the division rival Victoria Royals. This run of success has vaulted the Giants into a tie for 7th in the WHL’s Western Conference with Eric Comrie and the Tri-City Americans. Their total of 37 points would also put them 5th in the East, and represents an 8 point gap between them and the final playoff spot.

The news gets better too, as we now have some #fancystats that seem to indicate that the Giants are for real.

We’ll get right into the glorious numbers right off the bat. Our own coding whiz and reptile linguist Josh Weissbock has managed to put together some puck possession estimates and a simplified PDO for our benefit. Teams are sorted by 1st two period shots for percentage, which is meant to emulate score-close Corsi and Fenwick. Also included are all-situation shooting and save percentages, which give an estimate of PDO. Here’s the table, as of Sunday, December 8th:

Vancouver sits above some teams that have been pretty successful on the year, including Seattle, Victoria, Calgary, Swift Current and most notably the Kelowna Rockets. At first glance, this seems insane. The Rockets are 23-3-0-2, have the WHL’s 2nd best goal differential behind only Portland, and are the stingiest team in the entire league, surrendering just 65 goals compared to Vancouver’s 120. But as Josh’s findings seem to indicate, the Rockets probably aren’t as good as their record indicates. Goalie Jordon Cooke is sporting a 0.927 save percentage this year, which is well above his still-excellent career 0.914 mark. Pucks will start going in against Kelowna with more regularity soon, which will lead to some more bumps along the road. Also, measuring their expected wins based on their goal differential shows that the Rockets have won two more games than they probably should have won this year, meaning that their record is inflated by no small amount of luck.

The Giants on the other hand have been crushed by percentages. Their shooting percentage seems right in line with what you’d expect it to be, but their goaltending has been cataclysmic. They are the only team with a total save percentage under 0.880 in the entire WHL. As a result, coach Don Hay has turned to Jared Rathjen to handle the starting duties of late in an attempt to bring some consistency in goal. Rathjen for his part has been mediocre with a below-average 0.899 save percentage on the season, but he represents an absolutely massive upgrade on the struggling Payton Lee.

Beyond goaltending, the comparison between the Rockets and the Giants may actually make a lot of sense. Both teams are led by a pair of high-scoring NHL-drafted defensemen (Damon Severson and Madison Bowey for Kelowna and Dalton Thrower and Brett Kulak for the Giants), an undersized ’95-born centre (Tyson Baillie and Carter Popoff), and a goal-scoring late-round NHL draft pick (Ryan Olsen and Jackson Houck) as well as a solid supporting cast of players.

This is a weird season for the Giants. Their slogan this year is "champions under construction," indicating that the team is entering a rebuilding phase of sorts after finishing last in 2012-2013 and drafting Tyler Benson. But it’s almost as if someone either forgot to tell GM Scott Bonner or he’s just accidentally built what could be a contending team. Acquiring Dalton Thrower in the offseason and handing him the captaincy certainly now looks like a "win now" move, as does dealing some of their younger defensemen like Reid Zalitach and Jake Kohlhauser earlier in the season. If this is the plan, the Giants absolutely need a goaltender. An 0.879 team save percentage is just wasting all the talent the Giants have up front.

The powerhouse Everett Silvertips come to Vancouver this Friday to kick off a weekend home-and-home against the Giants, before Prince George visits the Pacific Coliseum on Sunday for the 3rd game in three nights. This Friday is also teddy bear toss night, which is always good fun.

Around the B.C. Division

Kamloops Blazers: Have a 0-9-0-1 record in their last 10 games…Are winless in 13 straight games, sit just two points ahead of Lethbridge for last in the WHL…Recalled prospect F Jermaine Loewen…G Bolton Pouliot will miss 4 weeks with an upper body injury…D Sam Grist served a one-game suspension for a match penalty against Kootenay.

Kelowna Rockets: D Damon Severson will leave for Team Canada’s World Junior camp on December 12th. He is expected to make the team…G Jordon Cooke was the WHL nominee for CHL goaltender of the week, going 2-0-0-0 with a 0.932 save percentage…Are 9-1-0-0 in the last 10 games, and have won 6 games in a row…Remain 3rd in the CHL’s weekly top-10 power rankings…F Ryan Olsen scored the teddy bear goal on Kelowna’s first ever teddy bear toss night.

Prince George Cougars: Are 4-5-1-0 in the last 10 games, not sit 8 points behind the Giants for the final playoff spot in the West…Currently have seven players out with injuries.

Victoria Royals: Dropped 2 of 3 games against the Giants this past week…Were outshot 22-1 in the 1st period of Tuesday’s game by Vancouver…Have a 7-3-0-0 record in their last 10 games and sit 5th in the Western Conference, one point back of Seattle.

Other News and Notes:

  • Hunter Shinkaruk did not play this past weekend as he rested his injured hip ahead of Team Canada’s WJC selection camp. Shinkaruk has just one goal in his past 11 games.
  • The Portland Winterhawks acquired the rights to Minnesota Wild D Mathew Dumba from the Red Deer Rebels in a multi-part transaction that included F Presten Kopeck. Dumba will now report to the already dynamic Winterhawks should Minnesota return him to the WHL at the end of the World Juniors.
  • Brandon traded G Christopher Tai to Medicine Hat in exchange for a conditional draft pick.
  • Portland F Nic Petan now sits just one point behind Spokane F Mitch Holmberg for the WHL scoring lead.
  • Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp roster was announced. WHL players named were Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat), Nic Petan (Portland), Sam Reinhart (Kootenay), Taylor Leier (Portland), Curtis Lazar (Edmonton), Damon Severson (Kelowna), Griffin Reinhart (Edmonton), Derrick Pouliot (Portland), and Josh Morrissey (Prince Albert). The full roster can be seen here.
  • Both Edmonton G Tristan Jarry and Tri-City G Eric Comrie were left off the World Junior roster, which I think is a huge mistake.
  • The WHL plays of the week are here and yes the music is still terrible. Do your best to enjoy them anyways.