What Would You Do Wednesday: Defensive Zone Faceoffs

Welcome to a new feature here on Canucks Army and all sites on the Nation Network: What Would You Do Wednesday, where we put you, yes YOU, in charge of your own imaginary Vancouver Canucks. We’ll present you with a different scenario each week, and you tell us how you’d solve it in the comments section below. Give props to the answers you do like and trash the ones you don’t. Easy! So let’s get started:

Over the summer, there was much discussion about how to get Daniel and Henrik Sedin back to the offensive stars they were pre-John Tortorella, and one of the most obvious ways to do this seemed to be to get their offensive zone start rate back to the level it was in the Alain Vigneault era – around 70%. With a return to a faster and more open brand of hockey under Willie Desjardins, fans hoped they’d see more Sedins in the offensive zone, too.

Well, that hasn’t happened.

According to war-on-ice.com, the Sedins have a team-low 43.5% offensive zone start rate, and have also taken more defensive zone faceoffs than any other forwards on the Canucks. Meanwhile Brad Richardson, Torts’ defensive zone specialist last year, has seen more offensive zone starts than everyone other than Linden Vey.

Part of starting the Sedins in the defensive zone is a trust issue. Linden Vey hasn’t demonstrated an aptitude for faceoffs, and Shawn Matthias has been brutal at them through his last two seasons, so Desjardins is likely hesitant to put those guys out on the ice in the defensive zone when they’re likely to lose the puck immediately.

But, hockey is a game of differentials. Is the theoretical improvement in shots against due to having the Sedins in the defensive zone worth the reduction in shots for you should see in the offensive zone? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

So what would you do? Would you continue to start the Sedins in the defensive zone? Would you start a different line there? Would you form a checking line to bury like AV did? Would you call someone up from Utica? Are there any available free agents you would sign to take draws? What about a trade? Who would you acquire, what would you give up?

Let us know what you would do in the comments below!

  • jared_cechanowicz

    As Bob McKenzie notes in his 30 thoughts column, the Canucks play 3 games over the first 9 days. This is most likely taking advantage of extra rest to utilize his known assets (Sedins) and getting a feel for how how other centremen are doing.

    I see the Sedins in mid-season being around a 55% O-Zone start but nothing as extreme as AV’s 70%. We’ve already seen the Sedins deployed in the defensive zone near the end of a PK to push a rush the other way and I think this is something we can expect more.

    Furthermore they have them paired often with Tanev and Edler, a fantastic duo for puck movement and zone entry. I can see enhanced trust placed in starting these 5 in the defensive zone and having more emphasis on the D bringing the puck into the offensive zone.

    Horvat will get his 9 games and will most certainly be played in a defensive role against middling opposition. I can see him quietly getting the job done and if he can eat up 11 minutes by the end of the 9 games he stays. Vey is further moved to wing and used as a PP specialist. Richardson, whose having a good start, starts seeing more defensive zone time. Matthias hopefully picks up his game as I haven’t been overly impressed by his pre-season or first 2 games.

  • jared_cechanowicz

    I think the Sedins really need the additional ozone starts. I’m really surprised we aren’t using 20-15-36 as a checking line, and when Bo is healthy it might not be a terrible place to play him 15-20 minutes a night. Matthias, Richardson, Dorsett is a capable 4th line that can take some dzone time as well.

  • jared_cechanowicz

    While I would like to see the twins start in the offensive zone closer to AVs tactics… There is a big difference between a defensive zone start and dumping the puck in under Torts vs Desjardins strategy of carrying it through the neutral zone and maintaining possession.

    the twins are still getting plenty of offence on the board with shots, goals, drawing penalties, etc.

    So I see this as more Desjardins using his best players to gain the zone, and leaving some of the cushy o-zone starts for lines he isn’t as confident will make it end to end without a turnover, but which can still do some damage in the offensive end once they are set up. I’ve. kassian

  • jared_cechanowicz

    As much as I don’t really agree with Horvat staying up with us (I’d rather he get real 1st line play, 1PP time and opportunities to show leadership in the minors) if he is here he’d be an obvious anchor for the 3rd line and defensive draws given what appears to be an ability to do this at this level. I’d keep Kassian and Vey on that line though it means not a pure shooter (unless I suppose Horvat can be a trigger man), push Richardson down to the fourth with Dorsett and Hansen (who’ve both looked decent) and sit Matthias (who’s looked completely forgettable).

    I guess my question is whether Horvat’s development gets stunted by being pushed into a defensive specialist role so early on? It didn’t hurt Kesler as far as I remember but he got time in the AHL to hone his skills.

  • jared_cechanowicz

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the Sedin’s d-zone starts. It’s a long season and it’s important to get off to a good start as these could be valuable points come April. Starting the Sedins in the defensive zone is nothing more than Coach D giving his team the best chance at winning hockey games.

    Besides, look at what Sedin/Sedin/Vrbata have done offensively, it doesn’t appear the extra d-zone starts have hurt them.

    Until a second reliable faceoff man can be found it’s likely we will see the Sedin’s get a steady dose of d-zone starts.

    If I were coach I would have Matthias, Vey, and Richardson (and Horvat when healthy) working on face-offs and the 5-man units working on gaining possession off the draw and getting out of the zone clean. Practice makes perfect.

    I would give it 20 games to see if it’s working out and at that time if it’s clear that nobody on the current roster can consistently win d-zone draws then it would be time to start exploring trades.

    • Mantastic

      “I wouldn’t worry too much about the Sedin’s d-zone starts. It’s a long season and it’s important to get off to a good start as these could be valuable points come April. Starting the Sedins in the defensive zone is nothing more than Coach D giving his team the best chance at winning hockey games.”

      that sounds exactly the same as how Torts was doing it at the beginning of the year too…

      Torts ran the Sedins into he ground because it gave them the best chance at winning.

      • Mantastic

        Torts was also playing the Sedins 24 minutes a night for the first half of the season. If Coach D keeps them at 19 to 21 minutes per game, a few extra d-zone starts aren’t going to kill them, they are the two fittest guys on the team.

        • Mantastic

          a few extra d-zone starts? more like double.

          it’s like me saying: Torts only played the Sedins a few extra minutes a game, they are the two fittest guys on the team…

          sounds silly, no?

  • jared_cechanowicz

    The other question is as to what the matchups look like. Too early to tell after one home game.

    But yeah, I’m not a fan of the defensive usage. Same with PK time. Give the twins a ~70% o-zone start rate. Use Brad Richardson or Bo Horvat (during his 9 games, at least) as your defensive faceoff guy.

    I will note that Willie had Matthias and company out against the Oilers’ top line a number of times on Saturday. I like that strategy – create a checking line, whose job is to not let the other team’s best players score. Likely, this will be Matthias / Richardson / Dorsett. Use Burrows / Bonino / Higgins to supplement that. Have the Vey line and the Sedin line eat up the sheltered minutes.

  • jared_cechanowicz

    I agree with Joel and JDM. Ozone starts are important, but at least we’re not dumping and chasing by default. As a rule I think 70-80% should be the goal for your offensive lines, though a high dzone to ozone transition rate might soften the blow of only 55% ozone starts.

  • jared_cechanowicz

    Willie needs to let Vey, Richardson, Horvat, and Matthias know very clearly that there is a competition going on for two centre spots, and the single most important determiner will be the ability to win face-offs.
    Then, they need to practice face-offs regularly after each practice, and these results, along with game percentage, will be consulted when deciding who plays and who sits.
    Although there are certainly other factors that make a centre valuable, none of them are gifted enough offensively to replace Henrik, or even Bonino, and they must be able to help Henrik be more effective by taking d-zone draws.

  • There are four components to determining who gets defensive-zone draws.

    Faceoff proficiency: This one is the most obvious. Winning the face-off gives you possession, and a good chance at leaving the zone with control. The difference between a good (55%) and a bad (45%) center is only one loss per every 10 draws, and is unlikely to have a significant impact on the game.

    Sedin and Richardson are our only 50%+ centers, so they have an advantage here.

    Opportunity cost: Again, fairly straightforward. If you start a player often in the defensive zone, that player may not be as fresh for offensive zone starts and opportunities.
    Given the Sedins’ talent, this is the main argument for starting them heavily in the offensive zone.

    Defensive ability: This one is the hardest for us to measure. If you are stuck in the defensive zone, how good are you at preventing goals? Our metrics here are pretty terrible. We can sort of look at shot suppression, and goal suppression, but a stat that takes turnovers/shots/goals into account is needed before we can draw conclusions. The Canucks may very well have a statistic that allows them to measure performance in this area.

    Zone exits: If they do get the puck, how proficient are they at exiting the zone? How often can they take the puck all the way from the defensive zone into the offensive zone? The All Three Zones project will shed a ton of light on this, but I would wager that the Sedins are much, much better than Richardson. This may be the strongest argument for starting the Sedins in the defensive zone.

    We have very incomplete data, and after talking to the Canucks management about this, I am confident they know more than we do. If the Sedins are better at getting the puck and exiting the zone than our other centers, I am content with the status quo.
    If Horvat can do well in the above areas, I see him taking on a lot of the heavy lifting.

  • I don’t see it as a big concern.

    Out of the 4 lines centered by Sedin, Bonino, Vey, and Matthias, which one do you think will have the best chance at getting out of their own zone after losing a face-off? The answer is obvious.

    The team has preached the mantra of running 4 lines this year and I guess this is their way of doing just that. The Sedins have shown themselves to be able to still create quality chances when they start from their end but the others are less proven.

    The only real option left without acquiring someone is to try Horvat there once he’s healthy but until someone else can step up to take some defensive draws off the Sedins, Desjardins’ zone deployment will probably remain as such for the time being.

    I’d rather the team just work on improving puck retrieval after d-zone face-off losses. That, to me, is much more useful.

  • Benning wanted a meat + potatoes 4th line so they have to be buried. Matthias-Richardson-Dorsett.

    If we going to put together a non-Sedin line to start against top lines in our own zone it has to include Burrows. So maybe Burrows-Bonino-Hansen. (Burrows and Hansen have had a 54.8% corsi together and Bonino is probably our 2nd best centre). Backed up with Hamhuis-Bieksa they should do alright.

    Sedins get the best minutes you can give them and Higgins-Vey-Kassian hopefully give you some decent secondary scoring. Maybe you put Richardson on that line for d zone draws, and then get him off the ice asap ala Malhotra, but no more than that.

    • Mantastic

      I’m a little bit worried about a centre corps of Hank-Bones-Vey-Horvat. Experience is a big part of winning draws, and if you have two rookies at centre, you’re probably getting beaten up on draws.

      That said, Vey should be playing with Richardson. Vey is a R centre, and Richardson is a leftie. He is also the only bottom-6 C who doesn’t suck on the wing. If he’s on Vey’s wing, then Vey only takes strong-side draws, which should result in him winning more faceoffs, all things being equal.

      I suspect that the Canucks were hoping Matthias could play on Vey’s wing, since that would improve both of their draws (especially with sheltered
      matchups), and trust Richardson’s skills to keep a 55%-ish win rate intact flying solo on 4th. Matthias’ inability to play the wing scuttled that.

      That’s a long-winded way of saying that the bottom 6 should be

      Higgins-Vey-Richardson
      Dorsett-Horvat-Hansen

      with Matthias as the odd man out.

      • Mantastic

        I like Richardson best out of our 4 4th liners, but we can’t play him with Vey regularly just for face-offs. None of Sestito, Richardson, Matthias and Dorsett are the kind of player who can step into the top 9 and be useful. Better to move Vey to the wing if it’s a big problem.

        If Horvat makes it, I’d play him between Burrows and Hansen as the shutdown centre and let Vey and Bonino compete to be the other middle 6 C.