Drance Numbers: California Love

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Someway, somehow the path to winning the 2015 Stanley Cup will go through the state of California. 

This weekend, the Canucks got their first taste of that good California Love. For Vancouver, a club realistically aspiring to something more modest than championship contention this year, but lodged inconveniently in the Pacific Division, the path to qualifying for the postseason similarly runs through the heart of the Golden State. 

Impressively the Canucks managed to head back north with four points out of a possible six. Banking those points is crucial for a Canucks team that went 2-9-3, amassing just seven of a possible 28 points, against the California kaiju last season, but for fun, let’s take a closer look at how the Canucks fared by the underlying numbers in their first major test of the campaign. 

Now look, let’s start this out by taking nothing away from a club that received mostly stellar goaltending on their latest road trip, and found ways to win games on the road against brutally difficult opponents. Let’s also note that teams on the road generally get outshot, manage a worse face-off percentage, and are called for more penalties than teams playing at home. Home ice advantage is a real thing.

That said, Vancouver’s performance against the California three was, well, pretty much godawful by the underlying numbers. It was bad enough that, results aside, I think it might reasonably shake how we view this club’s ceiling. Despite the narrow victories and Bettman points, Vancouver was simply outclassed in California – or at least they were until they finally flashed some spine in latter 45 minutes of Sunday’s contest.

The California trip opened against the Sharks, who thoroughly throttled the Canucks, but found a way to lose 3-2 thanks to spotty goaltending from Antti Niemi, some lights out play by Ryan Miller, and some opportunistic finishing from Radim Vrbata, Alex Edler and Nick Bonino. It’s also worth noting that the Canucks only just hung on by the skin of their teeth in San Jose, as the Sharks did find the equalizer in the third period – albeit a split second to late.

At even-strength in that contest though, the Canucks were outshot 36 to 19 overall and 16 to six at evens with the score tied. They were out-attempted 65 to 20 at evens strength, and 36 to seven with the score tied at five-on-five, and some skaters posted some truly ghastly Corsi event differentials (Kevin Bieksa’s two attempts for, 17 attempts against figure is among the worst I’ve ever seen). 

Thankfully the Sharks made like it was the postseason, and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. 

Meanwhile the Canucks lost a handful of key contributors – namely Radim Vrbata – to injury. Vrbata played at the start of the Los Angeles Kings game, but clearly wasn’t himself and is now listed as day-to-day with a troubling lower body ailment.

Similarly, the Kings game was a disaster, which you probably don’t need nearly as much convincing of. The Canucks were throttled 5-1, and the gap in team quality was arguably even wider than that. The Kings out-attempted the Canucks 53 to 26 at even-strength, and it’s not even worth splitting up by game states since the result was never really in doubt. Even after the Kings took the lead, Vancouver got their teeth kicked in up and down the lineup. Their leading skater in that game by shot attempt differential was Bo Horvat, who managed a Corsi For percentage in the mid-30s.

Finally in Anaheim, the Canucks regained their footing against the traditionally least potent 5-on-5 Californian team. After a lethargic first period, Vancouver actually controlled the flow of play in the latter stages of the game and finished in the black by shot-attempt differential, albeit narrowly. They got two points from the second leg of a very difficult set of back-to-back games, and they played well doing it – really the only positive takeaway (along with the four points) from their road trip.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that overall Vancouver’s five-on-five play in California was Buffalo Sabres quality.

Here’s a table breaking down just how badly the club bled out in terms of puck possession at five-on-five on their recent California sojourn. The first table is raw data, taking into account all five-on-five play in the three games and breaking it down based on goal differential, shots for percentage (EV SF%), and Corsi For percentage (EV CF%):

Canucks in Cali 5on5 Goal Differential EV SF% EV CF%
3 Games -3 42.3% 36.7%

For context, the Buffalo Sabres are far and away the worst puck possession team in the NHL at the moment, and even they’ve controlled, whoa, 36.7 percent of even-strength attempts so far this season.

The numbers when the score was tied are every bit as ugly too, so this isn’t a score effects thing:

Canucks in Cali SF% Tied CF% Tied
3 Games 44.30% 38.60%

Generally speaking, this sort of underlying data has zero predictive power, particularly because it’s based on samples as limited as what we’re discussing. Process matters though, especially early in the season, and I think it’s worth pointing out that though the Canucks’ first clash with the big bears in Cali produced standings points, it also left a lot of questions unanswered about whether or not the Canucks can legitimately hang with the best in their own division. 

Results aside, their latest road trip would suggest that the answer is likely “no” – or at least, probably not on the road. They’ll have to show a whole lot more if they want to continue to take standings points away from the beasts of the Pacific.

Need help with fancy stats, check out this Analytics Cheat Sheet

Stats in this piece courtesy War-on-Ice.com.

  • NM001

    Yeah.

    And we seem to have several of these gauntlets left. Dec 28-Jan 3 I think is ANA, LA, SJ plus DET thrown in for an extra beating. Same March 7-12. I think that first trip will really be the one that tells us if the later stages of that Anaheim game were for real or not. Lots of hockey between now and then but nothing has the same fear factor.

  • DCR

    Obviously it was not a great trip — although the schedule loss that turned into a win against Anaheim was nice. The only saving grace for me from the trip was the team’s fatigue. The San Jose game was Vancouver’s 4th game, in four different cities, in 6 nights, while San Jose had a full four days off coming into the game. Combine that with the back to back games against the other California teams with just a night’s rest in between and it sort of feels like we can’t really tell anything from the team’s trip.

  • DCR

    I have to say that the Canucks’ schedule has been just brutal lately, and that fatigue may have been a factor, especially in California.

    Counting tonight they’re playing 13 games in 22 nights, 8 of them on the road and including 3 sets of back to back games. The two day break they get after tonight’s game will be their first since Oct 19-20.

    I know the numbers look ugly, but the schedule isn’t helping.

  • NM001

    I’m actually ok with the road trip. It wasn’t pretty, we came away with points we shouldn’t have, and we didn’t show up very well against anyone but Anaheim. Then again Benning and Linden sold this as a team pushing for a playoff spot, not a presidents trophy or Stanley Cup.

    If we had crushed the California teams on this road trip expectations would have been raised and people would talking about planning the SC parade. If we play like we did in California against all teams going forward, then McDavid Sweepstakes here we come, but honestly I’m not overly concerned. We played a little worse then I expected (not that much worse though to be honest), and came away with more points then I expected.

    If we keep this up I say that we make the playoffs and lose in the first round. This is what Benning and Linden seemed to have sold us on, and it’s what they are delivering on right now. That trust is why I’m willing to let them play out their vision for this team for the next little while.

    Does it suck that we won’t have a top 3 pick this year, on some levels yes, but I’m glad I get to watch entertaining hockey. Nothing would be worse then finishing outside the top 3 and not winning the lottery if the goal was to tank. The teams that are tanking right now are doing such a good job that I’m not sure we could have followed this plan even if we wanted to.

  • NM001

    As I predicted in the summer, Canucks were gonna get outchanced/outshot to the big boys without Garrison. You can wine all you want about his last seasons underlying #’s, but in all his other NHL seasons they’ve been great. And are great again this yr in Tampa. Wihout Garrison, they used Bieksa with Stanton – they got demolished in SJS/LA. Sbisa/Hamhuis – again demolished in SJS/LA. And Edler Tanev which has been amaze balls this season. But no one on the planet trusts Stanton-Sbisa as a pairing, so the other ones were mixed up. And it showed. They were horrible.

    IF they had Garrison, there’s no chance they would have been outclassed to this degree in Cali. Vey may have some points on the PP, but who doesn’t when they play with the Sedins. He’s been a drain 5 on 5, playing on the 4th line and bad in the face-off dot. Yet he’s the teachers pet still.

    That trade was brutal, and good luck Benning finding another opt pairing dman available for trade once Bieksa/Tanev/Edler/Hamhuis goes down. You know it’s gonna happen then things will get real ugly.

    • NM001

      Does salary cap figure into your statement?

      Garrison = 4.6 Million

      Vey = $735K
      Sbisa = 2.175 Million
      Available Cap Space to start season = 900K

      Garrison = 4.6 M
      Cancuks Total Cap Space = 3.81 M

      Budget deficit = $790,000 + 1 replacement player for Vey.

      This means that if we kept Garrison one of the FA signings cannot happen. So who do you not sign Miller or Vrbata.

      Even if your argument is that we don’t trade for Dorsett you save only 1.6 Million. That means in that 1.6 million you saved, you would need to sign two players and make up $790,000 which isn’t possible. Even with two players on league minimum 550,000 salaries you would need 1.89 million (deficit + 2 players salaries) and only save 1.6 million on Dorsett. There is no way this version of the team can be built to include Garrison and I don’t think he brings enough that I would get rid of Miller or Vrbata.

    • NM001

      You must have been watching a different Garrison than I was last year.

      No way would I take that $4.6 million back. Even as a salary dump, with nothing back, I would still make that deal.

      Linden Vey has a LONG way to go, but he is only 23. For a club that is not a contender THIS year, but building towards NEXT year and beyond, that is just fine.