Image via Jeff Gross / Getty Images
After a wildly successful month of December in the Win/Loss column, January has been far less forgiving to the Canucks thus far. They’re 0-2-3 in their past 5, and have already given up just 5 fewer goals in January than they did in the entire previous month. The thing about winning is that, while obviously being the ultimate goal, it can also prove to be somewhat of a fool’s gold by thinly veiling larger underlying issues.
While getting the two points from a game is nice, ideally you’d like to do it in a way that’ll lend itself to future success. A blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, a broken clock is right twice a day, and hockey teams run into stretches of play where fortunate bounces string together a winning streak. It’s not something you should bank on, though. Just ask the ’11-’12 Minnesota Wild, and the Randy Carlyle Era Toronto Maple Leafs.
This is why we constantly preach the importance of puck possession on this platform; while it should make intuitive sense that having the puck more often than your opponent is a good thing, some people still choose to overlook its importance, despite ample evidence proving that its the best predictor we have for future success.
All of which brings us to the recent woes for the Vancouver Canucks; they’ve failed to register a win over the past 5 games now, and there are some worrying trends. Their ability to drive play has been sinking faster than Alex Burrows’ bid for Sochi. Anyways, this is something I’ve been following this for a while, and I figured that with an extra day off between games this was as good a time as any to explore the negative trend further.
You probably saw that image in Rhys’ recap of the shootout loss to the Penguins, but it was so nice that I figured we’d show it twice. He put things into perspective very elegantly, I thought:
"Since Alex Burrows and Alex Edler have left due to injuries, the Canucks have been in an absolute nosedive. With both Burrows and Edler, they were among the elite play-driving teams in the NHL, and a player or two away from a legitimate Stanley Cup threat in my estimation. Now? Below average and probably not a playoff team."
According to Extra Skater, the Canucks peaked back on November 22nd, after a 6-2 thrashing of the Blue Jackets had them as a 54.6% Fenwick team in score close situations. To put that into perspective, they’d be 3rd in the league – just slightly behind the Kings and Blackhawks, and ahead of the Sharks and Bruins – were they to still be driving play at that clip.
Unfortunately, they’ve been nosediving for a while now. Travis Yost recently went through some of the grunt work so that we wouldn’t have to, and he has the Canucks as a 50.82% Corsi Close squad in the "second leg of the season" (spanning from game 21 to 44, meaning the data from the Penguins game wasn’t included).
As he’s one to do, he dug further into the data, comparing every team’s Score-Adjusted Fenwick – here’s a guide on SAF, in case you were curious – to their Fenwick Close, and what you’ll notice is that it doesn’t show the Canucks in a good light when comparing the two. This probably has to do with their absurdly astronomical possession data when down by 1 goal (things begin to look far less positive when looking at their "tied" data, for example).
The Canucks have had a really weird year. At the start of the season, they weren’t really winning as many games as fans in these parts hoped they would, so people started to get down on them. But their underlying data was terrific, and it’s because of this that I remained quite bullish on them at the 30-game mark (right as they started that impressive 10-1-1 stretch).
The script soon flipped on them, though, as the (positive) regression in net carried them in a big way through December. Despite not playing nearly as well at 5v5 as they had been earlier in the year, they were enjoying by far their most successful stretch of the year, so it was difficult to complain. But there’s no doubt that the writing was on the wall. Maybe it hasn’t been as weird as it has been ironic, I guess.
Things truly have been bleak lately. In the last 3 games, they’ve attempted 149 shots as a team at 5v5 in score close situations, while their opponents have fired 226 of their own. Those figures would even make Randy Carlyle double-take. It’s also not overly surprising given some of the names that are currently in the lineup. Yannick Weber, Frankie Corrado, Benn Ferreiro, Darren Archibald, Tom ‘Hot Shot Scorer and Friend of the Blog’ Sestito. It’s not exactly a group of names that instill fear into their opponents, nor is it a group that we expected to see playing prominent roles at the start of the year.
With all of that being said I think it would be awfully premature to be panicking about all of this. It’s far more of an indication that this recent 0-2-3 stretch was forseeable based on what know about goaltending (that it’s super random, and was due to hit a rough patch), than a reason to think that they’re doomed for failure in the coming weeks and months.
The Canucks are still about 4 games or so away from getting out of the proverbial woods, but after that, the schedule really turns in their favour. Five of their final 7 games in January will come against the 4 worst teams in the Western Conference, and then they’ll head into the Olympic break with 4 games against the LEastern Conference. More importantly, it sounds like reinforcements are on the way as Burrows, Edler, and Luongo could all be back soon enough. Think of it as reverse-jenga; the pieces are being put back together where they initially were, and the reestablished foundation is solidfying the previously crumpled tower.
Over the course of an 82-game season teams go through injuries, but it’s just unfortunate for the Canucks that all of their’s had to happen at once. Just think about it this way: Andrew Alberts, an injury replacement himself, is unable to play because of injury, and there are rumblings that Henrik Sedin is playing through an injury of his own (which given his play lately, he should but resting, but can’t because of what’s going on around him). Once some of the familiar faces return to action – and as a byproduct, role players return to positions they’re far better suited for – I’d expect some of the possession data to normalize to what we saw in the earlier stage of the season.
We’re used to the Vancouver Canucks diving, just not in this manner.