It’s no secret that Ryan Miller struggled in St. Louis after he was dealt there last year. It’s also no secret than the Canucks goalies have struggled to stop pucks at 5-on-5 this season, entering the night with among the worst 5-on-5 save percentages in the entire NHL. So, while Ryan Miller is a professional and wants to win every night, he had plenty of added motivation to turn in a strong performance against his brief former team.
And Miller certainly fulfilled his end of the bargain, stopping 31 of 32 shots, and all 27 Blues shots at even strength, in a 4-1 Canucks win. Vancouver wasn’t a 4-to-1 score better than the Blues tonight, but they weren’t 6-to-3 worse than Dallas on Tuesday either. It all evens out in the long run though, and a win in October is the same as a win in April.
Read past the jump for a recap.
Vancouver had stumbled out of the gate in their last two games, yielding early goals to Steven Stamkos and Ryan Garbutt, but was able to reverse their fortunes tonight. Less than a minute in, Dan Hamhuis forced a Blues turnover at centre ice, springing Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins on a 2-on-1. Burrows’ hard snapper was stopped by Jake Allen, But Higgins pounced on the rebound to give Vancouver an early 1-0 lead:
Brad Richardson had a brilliant chance to give Vancouver a 2-0 lead later in the period thanks to a brilliant pass from Zack Kassian, but thanks in large part to being Brad Richardson, he somehow managed to pump a wrist shot right into Jake Allen’s crest as Allen was laying flat on his stomach, as only Brad Richardson can do.
The other highlights of the first period included John Garrett having a reasonably informed look at score effects and the resulting impact on team Corsi (no seriously – this happened), and Zack Kassian jumping into the St. Louis Blues bench to avoid a too many men on the ice penalty against the Canucks.
As the Kassian example foreshadowed, counting to five was a problem for Vancouver all night. In fact, thanks to Shawn Matthias taking his sweet time skating to the bench and Derek Dorsett being too eager to jump on a loose puck, the Canucks were whistled for their first too many men penalty on the evening, leading to Kevin Shattenkirk tying the game at 1-1 on a wrister from the top of the faceoff circle.
But that would be the only time that Ryan Miller was beaten on the night, as he made some very good saves, including two off of Patrick Berglund and one off of Jori Lehtera, which led directly to Nick Bonino’s 2-1 goal:
It was a good shot, but you have to wonder what Jay Bouwmeester was doing there. As a defenseman, you’re primary job is to take the passing lane away, but letting the puck carrier walk right into the slot seems like a bad idea too.
Linden Vey added a powerplay goal after the Sedins and Radim Vrbata hypnotized St. Louis into forgetting that the Canucks had a 5th player on the ice standing right in the slot, giving Vancouver a 3-1 lead:
The Blues would press hard for the third, but Ryan Miller stood tall in the Canucks crease. Jannik Hansen added a long-bomb empty netter with 3 minutes remaining, sealing Vancouver’s 4-1 win.
Courtesy of NaturalStatTrick
A side note before we begin, but the loss of ExtraSkater has created an arms race of sorts to fill the void of game-by-game stats content. So far, my two favourite sites for single-game numbers are Greg Sinclair’s HockeyStats.ca (which underwent a fantastic UI overhaul recently), and NaturalStatTrick.com, which has in-game WOWYs and Against You stats. I strongly recommend bookmarking both for this year, as well as David Johnson’s new successor to stats.hockeyanalysis: puckalytics.com.
The Sedins had a much more Sedin-y game tonight, leading the Canucks in Corsi% while starting 83% of their shifts in the offensive zone, which is what we came to expect over the summer. Of course, this strategy necessitates someone being buried, and tonight that was the Matthias-Richardson-Kassian line. They started nearly all of their shifts in the defensive zone, played primarily against the Blues most prolific offensive players in Jaden Schwartz and Vlad Tarasenko, and got hammered. Richardson (we can generally use the C as a ballpark proxy for the line) was +0/-8 Corsi against Tarasenko, which helps explain why he had such a poor performance possession wise.
Radim Vrbata continued to throw everything at the opposing goal, leading Vancouver with 7 shot attempts on his own, but only 3 hit the net. Chris Higgins also continued his strong play, with a goal on 6 shots. Higgins was a prolific shot volume/60 guy last year, and a very good middle-6 complimentary forward to have. He’s keeping pace with Vrbata in terms of individual shot attempts/60 this year too, which is an excellent sign – hopefully he can keep pace.
The most curious numbers of the night is the ice time though. Henrik Sedin played just 14:40 on the night according to the Canucks website, and no forward saw more than the 17:20 of ice time than Nick Bonino did. Now, the difference between Henrik and Bonino is almost entirely on the PK so I’m not too worried about that (Henrik did spend two minutes on the PK too though, so so much for “the Sedins won’t kill penalties.”), but it’s kind of jarring to see how equally distributed the ice time is, especially given how quickly the Sedins seemed to be run into the ground last year under John Tortorella.
Zack Kassian was last on the Canucks in TOI, but even he saw 12:37 of ice time, nearly all of it at even strength too, which is nearly the same amount of ES TOI as the Sedins and Bonino. Willie Desjardins really was rolling four lines tonight, which is fantastic to see, especially ahead of a back-to-back in Colorado tomorrow. Some excellent bench management by Desjardins tonight, but if it didn’t work, there’d be no end to the calls for more Sedins.
Still, having Nick Bonino leading all forwards in ice time is going to be something we’ll have to monitor going forward, because Nick Bonino should lead zero successful NHL teams in ice time. In the long run, Henrik Sedin will have to play more just because he’s so much better than anyone else on the roster. They don’t really have a choice in this. It’s fantastic that Desjardins wants to use his whole bench and wants to dress 12 guys that can all play hockey, but I question if the Richardsons and the Matthiases and the Veys are strong enough centres to handle 12-13 ES NHL minutes per night.
But hey, that part is on Jim Benning to go out and get better players. And there’s still lots of time to go do that.
Vancouver wraps up this road swing tomorrow night in Colorado to face the woeful Avalanche at 6:00 PM PST. That the Avs have stumbled out of the gate is an understatement – only Connor McJesus sweepstakes contenders Buffalo and Calgary have a lower Corsi% in the early going at 5v5, and only Buffalo has a worse goal differential.
The Avs are currently last place in the Central and have literally no redeeming qualities as a hockey team. Well, except for a couple of guys who are pretty good.
John Scott and Adam Burish may have as many goals as Duchene and MacKinnon combined right now, but there’s no way that lasts for long. But hopefully it lasts for at least one more night.