Canucks Deep Dive: October in Review

With the month of October now behind us, it’s a good time to take a step back and have a look at how Vancouver’s opening 10 games of the season went. The Canucks may have gone 7-3-0, but there is still lots of room for improvement.

Read past the jump for a look back on the month that was.

The Competition

The Canucks started their season with six new players on the team (Nick Bonino, Linden Vey, Luca Sbisa, Ryan Miller, Radim Vrbata, and Derek Dorsett) and a new head
coach in Willie Desjardins. With the lack of familiarity with each other and
the coach’s new system, the Canucks couldn’t have asked for a friendlier
schedule than what the hockey gods gave them for October. Four of the ten games
they played were against teams who are legitimate contenders in the Connor
McDavid derby (Calgary, Edmonton x 2, and Carolina). 

These were games they
needed to win, and they did. Their other wins came from an injury and flu
ravaged St. Louis Blues team, a Washington Capitals team which failed to make
the playoffs last year, and a very convincing win against the Montreal
Canadiens.  The losses against Dallas,
Colorado, and Tampa weren’t pretty, but considering the learning curve with the
new systems and faces, they have to be happy to exit October with a 7-3-0
record.

The Goaltending

The table below shows the trending save percentage for
Miller and Lack throughout the month. 

october goaltending

Ryan Miller has met expectations in the first month of the
season. His performances in the Carolina and Montreal games was enough
to push his save percentage slightly higher than league average, which is a
reasonable expectation for him this year. He had some very strong games against
St. Louis, Carolina and Montreal, and only had one terrible outing in Dallas.
Miller isn’t going to win the Vezina this year, but he’s been good enough to
keep the Canucks in it most nights.

Granted, Eddie Lack only played 2.5 games in October, but he
has to be disappointed with his play, especially his starts against Tampa and
Colorado. There were many, myself included, who expected Lack to make a big
push for playing time, just as he did in the first half of last season. It
hasn’t happened yet, and the Canucks will definitely need more than his current
.862 save percentage as he’ll be needed to start 20-30 games this year.

The Defense

defense october

The table above looks at cumulative five-on-five corsi for
throughout the opening month of October, so as more games, the sample size
increases and we start to see the trends emerge more clearly as cumulative corsi-for% (CF%) moves closer to 50%.

On the positive side, for 83% of Edler’s five-on-five
minutes he has been pared with Chris Tanev, and the duo have performed
exceptionally well, posting a 55.6 goals-for % (GF%) and 54.6 CF% when on the ice together.
This is exactly the type of numbers you hope to see in your first pairing, and
especially encouraging considering this pairing wasn’t used much by Tortorella
last season.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Hamhuis/Bieksa pairing
had a very slow start to the season. In October, 66% of Bieksa’s shifts have been
with Hamhuis. When paired together, the Hamhuis/Bieksa combo posted a 49
CF% and a shockingly poor 16.7GF%. It’s so early in the season that it’s impossible
to say whether what we’re seeing is growing pains from adapting to a new defensive partner
that will solve itself over time (last year Bieksa played with Edler and
Hamhuis played predominantly with Tanev or Garrison), or more of a long-term systemic issue. In either case, they’re
clearly not playing up to their capabilities, and their production is not nearly
good enough for a top four pairing. Desjardins has to be keeping a close eye on
this tandem, and with Ryan Stanton close to returning from injury, this may be an
area where he decides to shuffle the deck.

The Canucks third pairing of Weber/Sbisa is a paradox. When
on the ice together, they posted a 53.8 CF%, and 63.6 GF%, both
of which are exceptionally good figures for any defensive pair, let alone a
third pairing. That said, I can’t think of a pairing more prone to highlight
reel plays for the other team. In the first short month of the season, we have
been treated numerous instances of blown coverage and defensive miscues that
have ended up with the puck in the Canucks net, drawing the ire of Vancouver
fans. That said, the Canucks have consistently outshot and outscored the
opposition when this pairing is on the ice. Time will tell as to whether their strong numbers are a statistical anomaly driven by small sample sizes, or whether they
really are as bad as they look.

The Forwards 

oct forward lines

In Radim Vrbata, the Sedin’s appear to have found a time
machine to take them back to 2011. In the first 10 games of the year the Sedin
line has contributed 6 even strength goals and another 6 on the power play, with a little help from Linden Vey. I’m especially impressed by how effortlessly
Vrbata has adapted to the Sedin’s style of play, which is something I had
concerns about based on his style in Arizona. We can see from their estimated line CF% (calculated using pairing with-you CF% from stats.hockeyanalysis.com), that this line dominated their competition in terms of possession. 

While I’m impressed with the play of the Sedins and Vrbata
so far, I’m actually more impressed with how well the Burrows/Bonino/Higgins
line has come together. As one of the few vocal proponents of the Kesler/Bonino trade, I’m not surprised by Bonino’s strong output, but I am encouraged by how quickly he’s found chemistry with his new linemates. Not only are the dominating their
opposition from a possession standpoint (est. line CF% of 54.2), but they are also scoring at a higher
rate at even strength than the Sedins/Vrbata line (7 even strength goals in 10
games). Granted, this is due to a very high on-ice shooting percentage of 10.1% which
will likely regress, but at this point the this line is a legitimate secondary
scoring threat which will help to take a bit of pressure of the top line.

While the first two lines have exceeded expectations with
their play, the bottom two lines need work. When playing together, the third
line earned an estimated line CF% of 49.1%. This isn’t a terrible result for a third line, but its likely that the Canucks could have had much better results if Kassian wasn’t anchored by Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson. In their
time apart from Kassian, Richardson and Matthias earned CF%’s of 37.5%
and 31.2%, respectively.  

While Linden Vey has impressed so far, especially with his
play on the power play, his 40.5% faceoff percentage isn’t good enough to
center a third line longer term. Vey played 34% of his even strength shifts with
Kassian in October, and in this time the duo posted a 50.0 CF%. Bo Horvat was
called up from his conditioning assignment in Utica this weekend, so it’ll be interesting
to see if he replaces Richardson’s spot on the third line, with Vey and
Kassian as his wingers, which would leave some combination of Matthias, Richardson, Dorsett, and Hansen on the fourth line. 

Conclusion

With all the new faces in the offseason, the coaching staff has done a very good of helping players find chemistry early, enabling them to capitalize on a very weak schedule and exit October with a solid 7-3 record. November will be a significantly harder month as the Canucks will have to play San Jose, Anaheim twice, Los Angelas, Detroit, Chicago, a Nashville team which has surprised early, and a Colorado team which handed the Canucks their most humiliating loss of this short season. 

In order to be successful in this month, the Canucks will need better play from Bieksa and Hamhuis, improved play from their bottom six, and consistency from Eddie Lack, when called upon. 

While the play of the Sedin line and Bonino line has been a ton of fun, now that we’ll be facing the leagues stiffest competition this will be a month were we get a glimpse into just what type of team the Canucks really have.

  • Interesting stuff.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Hamhuis’s injury, – the broken nose and face shield corresponds perfectly to a dramatic drop in his CF% – probably a result of the face shield interfering with his vision. Now that it’s off, it’ll be interesting to see how his play recovers (terrible game last night notwithstanding).

    Also, do you know what the game-to-game CF% looks like for the third line? By the eye test they were *really* rough in the first five games or so, but have looked very strong over the past few games. Seems like they took a few games to get comfortable with each other and with Desjardins’ system, but now they seem to be clicking.

  • islander

    ” That said, the Canucks have consistently outshot and outscored the opposition when this pairing is on the ice. Time will tell as to whether their strong numbers are a statistical anomaly driven by small sample sizes, or whether they really are as bad as they look. ”

    This isn’t really fair to our third pairing, saying that it must either be sample size or them just showing us eventually how bad they are. At least give them the benefit to say that maybe they are not actually performing as bad as the highlight blunders would suggest and they may actually be a legit third pairing together. The numbers right now are saying they are, and I thought this site was very much about the numbers.

    • islander

      You’re criticism of this comment is fair. It’s always a bit of a challenge when the numbers don’t seem to correspond to what I’m seeing on the ice. As another poster pointed out, Sbisa/Weber have played roughly 40% of their time with the Sedins at 5v5, and when playing without the Sedins they are a sub 50%CF pairing. Again, at this stage of the season, we’re looking at very small sample sizes, so as you point out, it’s important to keep an open mind.

  • islander

    I think you have been reading too many Eastern analysts who want to write off the Canucks as a legitimate team. First, Calgary clearly is not in the McDavid sweepstakes. Second, Hamhuis has been injured and that effected his ability. I am concerned about Bieksa, he may no longer be a top 4 dman. The third line has improved. I would love to see them move Vey to the second line and Higgins to the 3rd line for Kassian to have someone to pass to, although Richardson has been okay. Bring on Matthias, Hansen and Dorsett as a 4th line and send the kid to Junior (he is being way over hyped, he is not ready), instead bring up Jensen as the sub. I am most upset with the constant attacks on Sbisa and Weber, what do all of you guys have against the Swiss? Weber has played quite well, heck he is the highest plus.minus on the d. He joins the rush, he would be a top 4 if he were a little stronger and bigger, oh and he is only 24, younger than even Stanton. Sbisa is a gambler and he will show big ups and big downs, that is who he is but if it balances as a number 6 that is pretty good. Stanton is also a serviceable dman who helps. This team is better than all the pundits, including on this website have claimed. Are they a number 1 team, no, but they are clearly able to be a playoff team in the West. I think we are seeing the problems of several other teams. Colorado is falling back, Dallas is a run and gun and will probably be there, but San Jose is weaker and Chicago just got beat up in the East, twice by marginal teams. Interestingly, it will be worse for Chicago next year when they lose a couple of forwards and dmen, because they can’t pay them under the cap. $21 million on 2 players, one third more than Sedins whom the pundits panned.

  • islander

    It does seem a little like a surprise to see Sbisa and Weber with such good possession numbers. Isn’t it probable that this is a feature of their deployment? I feel like the last few games they have been on the ice with the Sedins a lot. I did a little digging and it does appear that this pairing has played with the Sedins more than any other forwards, but not by all that much per game (Weber spent about 8 minutes more on ice with the Sedins than Higgins, the next closest forward this season). This might explain in part why their numbers are not matching with the errors everyone sees on the ice. It also looks like Weber’s without the Sedins numbers are a big drop off to about 44% CF.

    I got my stats from naturalstattrick.com

  • The fact that Hamhuis is posting worse numbers than Bieksa after 10 games has to be the biggest concern facing the coaching staff right now.

    Edler-Tanev has been a marvelous pairing but if your rock in Hamhuis suddenly stops being that, then you lose any semblance of a reliable 2nd pairing.

    Hopefully he plays out of this funk when given more games. Maybe you try Hamhuis-Sbisa again when Stanton returns since they put up decent numbers together in the first couple of games but those numbers will need to be taken with a grain of salt as they were against Edmonton and Calgary.

    Whatever the solution is, fixing Hamhuis is key if the team wants to keep up the success it has had so far.