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%|
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|
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.