Two pretty good hockey players.
This is a regular Friday feature combining a healthy mixture of observation, analysis, and foresight on the Vancouver Canucks. If you’d like to get at me about anything covered in this column, follow me on Twitter at @yyjordan and let’s start a textual relationship (wink).
I missed you guys last week!
1. With a three day break in between games at home this week, it hasn’t been a busy news week for the Canucks. That might partly explain why I’m so enamoured by these photos of Canucks players in ugly Christmas sweaters. There are some true gems in there, from Burrows’ braces to Schroeder the Christmas elf to Daniel’s built-in mittens. Dale Weise’s captions are legitimately funny, too.
2. Also noteworthy is this photograph of Jason Garrison. Now, Garrison is a 29-year-old man in real life. If I didn’t know better I’d guess the bearded, sweater-adorned fellow in that photograph is at least 45, and probably lives in a remote log cabin with at least one rug made of animal fur. I can almost smell the worn leather and Old Spice. If the photograph showed his left hand we’d see a corn cob pipe.
3. Without much game action action to talk about this week, there were a couple excellent stats-based articles published here at the Army. If you missed it on Wednesday, Thomas Drance’s piece on the 3 players who have benefited most from John Tortorella is a must read. Contained within is this eye-popping stat on Chris Tanev:
Chris Tanev has spent nearly 79 mintes on the ice in 4-on-5 situations this season. In those roughly 79 minutes Vancouver’s goal differential, in 4-on-5 situations I’d remind you, is even. Yep. Even.
4. I don’t think it’s a fluke that the 3 players mentioned in that piece — Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins, and Chris Tanev — are guys who have historically been advanced stat all-stars and Canucks Army favourites as a result. They’re smart, adaptive hockey players. Tortorella recognized that early in the season, and is riding the hell out of them. Now, "hockey IQ" is not a quantifiable thing, so I’m completely speculating here, but compare the success of the team’s more blue collar players to that of, say, Alex Edler or Zack Kassian, two guys with all the tools but who are also prone to bouts of inconsistency. It’s been a considerably bumpier ride for those types of players so far under Tortorella.
5. The other article that raised some fascinating stats was Corey’s look at the Canucks’ zone entries. Chris Higgins’ name comes up again, which only reinforces what a great season he is having so far, both from the eye test and on the stat sheets. You can also see that aside from being unable to score a goal to save his life (or his foot, or his jaw), Alex Burrows is as effective as he’s always been. Also, Mike Santorelli has proven to be a remarkable pick-up, and is another example of a smart, put-your-head-down-and-hustle player excelling under Torts.
6. A few more notes on Chris Higgins before I shutup about him: he’s 5th on the team in scoring and is on pace for 20 goals, he’s a +4 despite having the lowest on-ice save % on the team, has great possession numbers despite playing against tough competition, and — as noted by Drance — only a handful of other forwards in the league are generating more shots at even strength. Say it with me: Higgins for Socchi!
7. The Canucks have won 5 in a row, but I don’t think they’re playing dramatically different than they were when they lost 7 of 8 or whatever it was. What they appear to be getting better at is limiting catastrophic breakdowns, though they’re still cropping up from time to time. Their habit of allowing two quick goals in succession is something they’ll want to work on, but overall I think the team has smoothed out some of the early season wrinkles in their own zone.
8. Zac Dalpe has had the chance to show the coaching staff what he can do lately on the 4th line, and on Wednesday he got the chance to show the city what he can do behind a microphonoe in a duet with Sarah McLachlan at the annual Dice & Ice event. Turns out, much like Troy McClure in Planet of the Apes: The Musical, Dalpe can sing.
9. The aftermath of the rookies performing "I Will Remember You" at Dice & Ice has produced maybe my favourite video of John Tortorella so far this season. He admits to not knowing who Sarah McLachlan is, then confesses that he can’t watch the SPCA commercial containing her song "Angel" because it’s just too sad. To top it off, he makes fun of Dalpe for blurting out "I love you" to McLachlan on stage.
10. Dan Murphy reports that Roberto Luongo will be given the start tonight against the Oilers. Does this mean Eddie Lack starts Saturday against the Bruins? If so, it will be the second time in 2 years that Luongo is not given the chance to redeem himself against Boston. Lack recorded his first NHL shutout in his first home start earlier in the week, so he definitely deserves another game, but we have seen Torts play Luongo in back-to-back games already this season. Whereas we know Alain Vigneault would often ask his goalies for their input, I’m curious what Tortorella’s decision making process is here.