Drance Numbers – Fun with Small Samples

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It’s early in the season, the Canucks are 3-1-0 mostly on the backs of beating woeful Alberta-based teams, and there’s still an awful lot of noise present in the underlying data. 

While we can infer some things about the club based on the roster, the eye-test, and the past performances of some of the club’s personnel, the truth is, it’s too early still. The data at this point isn’t mature enough to allow us to draw conclusions about the quality of this new-look Canucks club with any confidence.

We’ll still proceed and see what we can see, but keep the relative softness of the Canucks schedule and the volatility of miniscule samples in mind. At this point in the season, this is guesswork mostly.

Read past the jump.

-2

While the Canucks are in the black by overall goal differential so far this season, they’ve been outscored by two goals at five-on-five. This isn’t necessarily a negative indicator at this point – though it’s not ideal – particularly since the club is sporting a low (6.8 percent) shooting percentage that is likely to regress in a positive direction, and a low save percentage (.914) that will probably rebound similarly over the next 78 regular season games.  

In terms of the breakdown, it’s worth noting that the Canucks’ fourth-line of Shawn Matthias, Jannik Hansen and Derek Dorsett have been outscored 3-0 in roughly 30 even-strength minutes together so far. On its own this isn’t a huge cause for concern yet – Hansen, for example, has a PDO below 80 – but because it’s paired with some brutal looking underlying numbers, it bears watching.

~60%

The Canucks have a forward line that, through four games, is controlling even-strength shot attempts at an elite 60 percent clip. Oddly enough that line isn’t the one that features a pair of Art Ross winners and a $5 million recently signed unrestricted free agent.

Off the hop, the line of Nick Bonino, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins has done extraordinarily well at controlling the flow of play and, yes, they’re the line that’s Corsi’ing at a 60 percent rate. With any of Burrows, Bonino or Higgins on the ice, and they’ve all played roughly 42 minutes, the Canucks are also yet to allow a goal against. 

That’s a really good start for Vancouver’s so-called “second line” but their usage should probably be considered here. In fact, they’re not really Vancouver’s second-line by even-strength time on ice. 

So far Brad Richardson is seeing just a tick more five-on-five ice time per game than Bonino is, a trend that sort of holds up for Richardon’s regular wingers Linden Vey and Zack Kassian over Bonino’s. It’s early enough that these numbers can be skewed by just one bad defensive shift for the Richardson line, but for now it’s worth noting that Vancouver really has two pretty equal middle-six forward lines; rather than a more traditional secondary top-six forward group.

+27

For now the Team-level shot attempt differential numbers are shrouded in more noise than signal, but in the absence of reliable “possession numbers” we can use the difference between the club’s offensive zone and defensive zone face-offs as a reasonable proxy for how the Canucks are controlling the flow of play. So far the Canucks are way out ahead, with 27 more total offensive zone face-offs (all situations, not just even-strength) than defensive zone face-offs. 

I’d caution against reading too much of anything into this number – or any other number we’re discussing here, frankly – but that’s a positive early indicator that this club is tilting the ice in a favorable direction so far, albeit against pretty bad teams.

71.4%

Want to understand why Brad Richardson is fourth (fourth!) among all Canucks forwards in even-strength time on ice per game so far this season? Well he’s won 71.4 percent of his defensive zone draws at even-strength, which yeah, matters a lot to a club that currently ranks 28th in face-off winning percentage

2.5%

This one is just funny. 

Canucks defenseman Alex Edler has been, to my eyes, Vancouver’s best defenseman through four games this season. Arguably he’s been their best player period.

After a year in which he won the NHL green jacket as a result of brutal and surely unsustainable run of bad luck in the offensive end, Edler has started off this season running cold by on-ice shooting percentage yet again. With Edler on the ice at even-strength so far this season the Canucks are capitalizing on just 2.5 percent of their shots on goal, a rate that isn’t just hilariously low, but is completely out of line with the on-ice shooting rates for every other Canucks blue-liner

No we’re not at the point where one might reasonably conclude that Edler is doing something to cause this, though it is sort of interesting that – despite his obvious offensive tool kit – Edler ranks towards the bottom-end of regular NHL defenseman in on-ice shooting percentage over a large sample. NHL defenseman aren’t believed to impact on-ice shooting percentage all that much though and Edler’s just under 7 percent large sample number isn’t much lower than average. 

There very probably isn’t anything to worry about here. Kind of amusing though. 

62.6

The Canucks’ new-look power play is generating over a shot per minute in the early going this season, which is good to see, and the club is currently generating 62.6 shots for per 60 minutes of five-on-four play – the fifth best rate in the league in the early going. This actually isn’t much of a departure from what the club did last season, it’s just that this time the team is also scoring goals. 

Just one quick player usage note on the power-play: at the top of Vancouver’s 1-3-1 at the moment the team is using Kevin Bieksa, rather than Alex Edler. It’s probably nitpicking, especially considering Vancouver’s early season power play success, but I’d call that a mistake.

Over the past five years Edler ranks in the top-five among all NHL defenseman who’ve regularly taken a shift on the power-play in goal scoring rate. We’re talking (in order): Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Mike Green, Dustin Byfuglien, and then boom – Alex Edler. In contrast, Bieksa ranks a pedestrian 54th.

The evidence suggests that the Canucks currently employ one of the league’s elite point shot weapons, but they’re not using it on the first unit in favor of keeping a righty on the point. I’d suggest that’s over-thinking things. 

(Stats in this piece compiled at faceoffs.net, puckalytics.com, hockeyanalysis.com, and behindthenet.ca)

  • RandomScrub

    What do you think are the reasons for not using Edler on that top unit 1-3-1? I would hope the reasoning for this decision is more than just the fact they would prefer a right handed shot for the Dman on that unit.

    Could it be that they would prefer his point shot prowess to be used in the more conventional 2nd unit isntead? Perhaps his skills are preferred in the second unit, and the first unit can rely on the Dman to serve as a distributor more than anything.

    • They prefer a right-handed shot but they want it to be a shooter as well. That’s why it’s Bieksa instead of Tanev right now on the top unit. Edler is historically the better choice but if they really wanted to run that, I’d try Weber there since he’s now in the lineup.

      And if they really wanted to go with a more conventional 2nd unit, I’d put Tanev or Weber on there beside Edler instead of Hamhuis. God bless Hammer but the guy should not be playing on the PP.

  • The EV TOI spread is probably due to the amount of special teams play we’ve had so far and the 2nd line has been getting 4-5 mins per game so far. Against Tampa our 4th line lead the forwards in EV ice time through 2 periods. Just Willie trying to balance things out.

  • I think Edler is at his best when he patrols the offensive blue line for passing options and when he joins the play to release his deadly wrist shot (goal against Tampa). I think he’s returning to this form and the underlying numbers will follow.

    Which makes me agree with your point of Bieksa on the PP. Watching him and Garrison pound slap shot after slap shot that miss the net really brought me back to last year. The Canucks seem best when they move the puck quickly for an uncovered wrist shot. Having a guy like Bieksa hammer the puck wide seems like such a waste of the rest of the unit.

    Put Tanev or Edler back. Have Bieksa or Weber hammer pucks on the second unit where Bonino and Burrows can tip or clean up the garbage.

  • Here’s some free advice… How bout we let the coach do the coaching and we do the watching. You don’t think Willie doesn’t know his players. He knows his options, and he knows what he’s doing. I would expect to see different combinations on the back end of the PP throughout the entire season. We’ll see how they do on the upcoming road trip. Since every sports writer in town thinks the Alberta teams aren’t really NHL caliber. Which is BS by the way. Yes there are better teams, blah blah blah. The Canucks are miles ahead of where they were last year as far as chemistry, coaching, and work ethic. They are going to win their fair share of games if they keep playing like they have so far. Good job by Willie. And win or lose I’m a Canuck fan anyways.