Canucks Army Postgame: A “real victory”

Let’s have a chat about things. [Photo via Darryl Dyck]

Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Kings  I mocked the notion of “moral victories”, citing the unmitigated collapse by the Canucks since that term became a thing around these parts in January. That whole ordeal tied right into Mike Gillis’ sentiments about “chasing moving goal posts”; winning hockey games appeared to become a secondary objective as the team tried to change the way it was perceived, and in doing so they lost both themselves and a lot of games, as well.

This particular meeting between the two teams wound up being a much, much tamer contest. There were 93 fewer penalty minutes handed out, and instead of a bunch of fisticuffs and shenanigans we had to settle for a legitimate hockey game. As it turns out that’s not such a bad alternative.

We’ll run through how the Canucks managed to beat a Pacific Divison adversary from California for just the 2nd time all season. Apologies on the later-than-usual recap, but some things came up last night that prevented me from posting immediately following the game like I usually do. Hopefully you managed to find some other avenue of entertaining seeing as it was a Saturday night and all..

The Rundown

In terms of noteworthy events, there really isn’t all that much to report on from the first 40 minutes or so. The opening period, in particular, featured a seemingly uninspired, nondescript brand of hockey. 

Things picked up in the 2nd period with a couple of power plays for both sides, and the Kings finally scored the first goal of the game in the final minute of the frame. It came as a result of a 2nd straight penalty taken by Frankie Corrado, which marked the first infractions of his NHL career (he had played 18 games, including the playoffs, without being sent to the box heading into this one). 

But the 3rd period really redeemed all of the lackluster action that had preceded it, and then some. After drawing a penalty against Dustin Brown (*) the Canucks PP went to work in a way which was reminiscent of the glory days, and has been something that we’ve seen way too infrequently this year.

(*) Here’s a fun fact for you: Dustin Brown’s 8 year extension hasn’t even kicked in yet. Sure, he has been a victim of the percentages in 2013-14, but still, he has 14 goals and 26 points on the season. The Kings are on the year for $47 million with him, and are mostly very fortunate that David Clarkson exists to divert people’s attention away from this. 

There was a bunch of movement, crisp passing, and a whole lot of Henrik and Daniel Sedin looking like Henrik and Daniel Sedin. In under 8 minutes of 5v4 time, the Canucks managed 13 shot attempts and 7 shots on goal as a team. One of those was this one by Edler, which ironically enough careened off of him and past Quick rather than actually being a controlled attempt. 

Given the sequence that led up to it, and all of the power play misfortunate they’ve endured as a unit all year, I don’t think anyone is complaining (though let the record show that Alex Edler didn’t get a plus in the +/- column for this!!!):

Now, earlier in the game, Zack Kassian made a fantastic little play to set up Brad Richardson for a glorious scoring opportunity, which the latter wound up flubbing. 

Following this play I went on Twitter and said some stuff about Richardson, was appeared to be taken the wrong way by some undying fans of the team. And that’s why I wanted to take this moment to explain where I’m coming from with regards to things I’ve been saying about him for a while now.

We – and by that I mean the people that write here at Canucks Army – have long been harping on the fact that Richardson is a large reason for the suppressed point totals for both Zack Kassian and David Booth, his two most common linemates. It’s not because I think Richardson “sucks”. Ideally he’s a valuable asset because of his ability to kill penalties, and play somewhere between 6-8 relatively trustworthy 5v5 minutes as a 4th line pivot. Because of injuries and a lack of depth, he has been asked to fill a role which is, quite simply, way over his abilities as a hockey player.

I think the play from above is a perfect example of why I refer to him as a “black hole”; he’s where Kassian’s playmaking ability goes to die. As I went on to tweet, I think I’ll devote a good day or two this summer to looking over a bunch of game film, and compiling a reel of every time he squandered a glorious opportunity that was spoon-fed to him. 

Even then, no matter how many times we see Kassian do his job while Richardson doesn’t, there will be people out there that will continue to blindly lay blame on only one of those guys because of perception and expectations that are negatively influencing their judgement. After all, one is a former 1st round pick that was traded for Cody Hodgson, and the other is a gritty guy that was acquired on the cheap and “plays the right way”.

With all of that being said, of corsi went ahead and buried one of Kassian’s exquisitely executed set-ups in the final 90 seconds of the game, which proved to be the game winning tally. That was Kassian’s 14th assist of the season, and I imagine that number would be in the 20-something range had he spent the majority of his season playing with a player more suited for finishing plays off. In the long run, though, Richardson’s most valuable contribution to the 2013-14 Vancouver Canucks may be his role in helping the team save a few bucks on his linemates RFA deal this summer.

The Numbers

Fenwick chart for 2014-04-05 Kings 1 at Canucks 2

EV fenwick chart for 2014-04-05 Kings 1 at Canucks 2

Overall, I’d classify this as a very impressive 5v5 performance by the Canucks. By attempting 4 more unblocked shot than the Kings in 5v5 score close situations, they became the first team since February 27th to come out in the black v. LA (a streak of 17 games).

Based on the head-to-head numbers, there wasn’t very much line-matching going on in this one. The Bieksa/Edler pairing predominantly asked to bite the bullet against Anze Kopitar’s line, which makes Alex Edler’s outing all that more impressive. He led the team in ice-time, drew two penalties, fired four shots on goal, factored in on both tallies, and despite seeing a bunch of Gaborik-Kopitar-Williams, managed to come out even in the possession game. Now that’s a heckuva performance.

In his return to action, Henrik Sedin was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for v. 13 against, which is hardly anything to scoff at considering he went toe-to-toe with the insanely effective unit that is LA’s top line for a good chunk of that time. Despite initially being split up from his brother, he ultimately wound up being reunited with him as we originally anticipated.

The Conclusion

With the win, the Canucks squandered a chance to allow both the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators, both of whom came through with big wins on the road, to leapfrog them in the standings. They also managed to put off being mathematically eliminated for another day, though that might come soon. 

The Anaheim Ducks come back to town yet again as part of a weird scheduling quirk on Monday evening, and considering how their past couple of meetings have gone, the Greatest Tank Battles may once again be back in effect.

    • Brent

      I have to disagree. They need to move a major player or two and get some blue chippers on board. The core is still the same and they’re getting older. Even if they have better seasons next year, they will be older and be in a very tough division. Move Kesler while he still has value. Edler will still get you something (he had a solid Olympics and can be of value when on a good team).

      • Brent

        Except for those doggone NTCs, which both players have not yet admitted that they will be waiving. Edler has flat out said he won’t be waiving.

        Stupid logic getting in the way of some great armchair GMing. Hate that.

        • Brent

          Yeah, so I guess all of those Kesler rumors must have been false. I also guess Edler couldn’t be diffusing a media bomb by denying he OK’ed trades to certain teams – all of this after the deadline. Right. I am sure it would be impossible to move said players especially after this is a team on the decline and will miss the playoffs this year. I could be wrong in assuming the rumors of Kes and Edler OKing trades were legit…I totally get that…I guess you must be in the Canuck organization with inside knowledge to refute such thing. Yeah, your stupidity did get in the way of some logic but it’s all good. Breathe and stop eating paint chips.

    • Brent

      Depends what you mean by “back in the mix” – a reasonably healthy Canucks with a prospect or two showing up next year would be a playoff team, but not a Stanley Cup contender unless the bottom falls out of the Hawks, Kings, Sharks, Blues, and Ducks over the summer (not likely). I’m a little more bullish on their short-term prospects than most of the commenters around here, but they need a 1st line winger, a couple of their prospects to show up, and some stability in net to reopen that window for a couple more years.

  • Brent

    Re: Richardson – he’s done an admirable job playing up the lineup, and if the Canucks had the health and depth to play him on the 4th line + PK, that would be amazing. It’s a real shame Santorelli got hurt before he got much time with Booth & Kassian – Santo on that line in place of Richardson would have been great.

  • Brent

    Think you guys are a little hard on Richardson. He’s the only guy who really gets buried in terms of zone starts. Obviously I’d like to see Kassian and Kesler together – just a shame he’s stuck behind all those top 6 wingers on the depth chart.

  • Brent

    I’ve been thinking about the skill level of our team. How many of our guys can dangle and score like gagne did the other night?

    I think that is the problem. we don’t have enough (or any) skilled guys. you can teach defense, but you can’t teach skill

  • Brent

    Great writeup as usual.

    Can we all take a minute to talk about Kesler and how horrible his underlying #’s have been this yr. Wowsa. Esp since coming back from injury. I’m not opposed to trading him this summer if they can get a tough mins centre in return (Coots, Stephan etc). I think Kes is on the downturn.

    Also, Kings without Doughty. Van without Tanev/Santorelli. The Kings looked disinterested in this game, so it’s tough to say Canucks looked good. But I also don’t think this team needs a massive overhaul like some people think.

    I think they sign Goc this summer, turn their 3rd line into a checking line. Take the tough mins from Kesler and Hank. Sign a Verbata type guy with good underlyers, Keep Jensen/Corrado on team, perhaps Horvat. Recall Shinkirak or Gaunce or Fox after next years trade deadline. New cach of course. I think I like that team, alot

  • Brent

    The Canucks certainly looked good in the 3rd period of this game. However, they were playing the Kings, who are guaranteed to make the playoffs. Were the Canucks actually that good or were the Kings not putting in their best effort? Is there a way we can tell that from the data?

    Also: “With all of that being said, of corsi went ahead and buried one”…I see what you did there, Dimitri…