Capital Offense – Canucks’ Power-Play lights up D.C.

In a 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday the Vancouver Canucks scored enough to bail out a shaky goaltending performance from Ryan Miller, who requested the game specifically from head coach Willie Desjardins. 

Miller’s shaky outings have been all-too common this season, but at least the “out-scoring iffy goatlending” thing is a huge relief for those of us who watched the Canucks stagger through the 2013-14 season. So don’t look a gift win in the mouth, I say!

Read on past the jump for more.

That the Canucks’ slumbering power-play awoke in a major way, scored three goals, and powered them past the Washington Capitals is obviously the story-line of the game. 

The three goals are nice, and so is the six shots on goal. Vancouver’s power-play hasn’t just been struggling to score, it’s also been struggling to generate shots of late. Over the past couple of weeks, even as the team has found a new five-on-five gear, the club has sunk to the bottom-10 in the NHL in 5-on-4 shot rate. 

A big help has been the return of Linden Vey to the lineup, and thus the top power-play unit. Vey was used a bit out of position on Tuesday and wasn’t glued to the high slot. Daniel Sedin occupied that spot instead, while Vey dropped down low, which caused confusion among Capitals penalty killers. To the eyes Daniel in the high slot looked creative and dangerous all game, and the sneaky goal he scored in that spot was fantastic:

It’s probably worth noting that this was Daniel’s first five-on-four goal of the season. When he won the Art Ross trophy all those years ago, he had 22 power-play goals! If the twins are going to be point-per game players (or better) ever again, and hey, maybe they just won’t be and that’s cool too, then Daniel is going to have to find a way to manufacture goals on the power-play. Obviously this will play.

So will this:

That’s some vintage Daniel schtick, the sort of one-shot goal on the rush that we’ve rarely seen since he was elbowed in the head by Duncan Keith…

Anyway the first unit just generates more shots on goal when Vey is on the ice with them than they do without him, and it’s a significant uptick so far. Though Vey doesn’t seem to fit in with this team at five-on-five when everyone is healthy, his utility on the power-play is probably great enough that they should find a way to keep him in the lineup even once Kassian returns to full health. 

The Numbers

Capture

The fancy stats don’t paint a flattering picture of the contest, but in this case they’re a bit deceiving. Vancouver led all game, which doesn’t help when it comes to outshooting, and despite leading for most of the night, outshot the Capitals overall. The power-play was a big help on that front, of course, but holding a trailing Capitals team to just 25 shots is pretty decent. It’s too bad that they scored three goals, but that’s at least somewhat on the goaltending.

The defense had some tough moments, and the pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa were particularly woeful on Brooks Laich’s third period game-tying goal. Both of their Corsi For percentages for the game were in the 30s, and yeah, they looked that bad to the eyes too.

Worth mentioning is that the twins and Radim Vrbata got absolutely smoked at five-on-five. It’s a good thing they were so good on the power-play, because they rather convincingly lost their matchup to the Brooks Laich/Joel Ward line at even-strength.

More good news: Bo Horvat continues to just win draws. The league’s youngest face-off ace went five for seven in the circle on Tuesday, schooling up even the likes of Jay Beagle for clean wins on a couple of offensive zone draws. The best face-off men in the game save their go-to moves for the defensive zone, which is why teams, on a macro level, win more than 50% of their draws in that zone. Beagle is a face-off specialist and still Horvat had his number.

Look Horvat’s face-off skills are probably getting too much attention, especially on broadcasts. The fact is, what he’s doing is pretty remarkable. 

I’ve been looking through the seasons 19-year-old rookies have had in the NHL over the past decade, and I can’t find anyone who has been this good in the circle this soon (I’ll write more on this soon, promise). 

Even guys like Boyd Gordon, a former first-round pick who now wins 60 percent of his draws, was a 45 percent face-off guy on his first 120 or so draws in the show. So far I’ve found one 19-year-old rookie who won over 50 percent on their first 120 NHL draws, and it’s Jonathan Toews who won 61 of his first 122 draws in his first 10 NHL games back in 07-08. 

Obviously that isn’t as good as Horvat’s 60 percent, but then again, Toews also managed four goals and points in literally all 10 of those games and was playing 20 minutes a contest so… Yeah draws aren’t everything – but what Horvat is doing is crazy impressive.

One other point on this, Horvat’s go-to face-off move is a straight power move. There’s no fancy skate turns, and he’s not cheating over the top like Marcus Krueger or Tyler Bozak. He’s playing it straight and just flat out out-muscling NHL players, legitimately, in the circle. He’s 19-years-old.

This man strength shows up in all his all around game and certainly showed up on the hit he threw on Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen that preceeded Derek Dorsett’s game opening goal:

My goodness, shades of Trevor Letowski from Dorsett on that finish, eh?

Vancouver has the day off tomorrow before playing whoever is left standing on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. Penguins stars Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz are unlikely to play, so Vancouver will get something of a break in that, though they’ll still be facing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins will also have Jayson Megna and Blake Comeau in their top-six…

  • Fred-65

    great write up Drancer. I’ve taken you calling you this, even though I don’t know you, cause that’s what the Provies call you. Tee hee.

    I’ve also looked though NHL.com to see the face-off #’s for 19 years olds. Came up with nothing. It’s incredibly ridiculous what he’s doing in the face-off dept, I don’t know how to explain it.

    I would like to hear your take on how they are currently using HOrvat. Is he playing too little, did you think they should have kept him. should be go to World Jr.s Should he get better line mates as a rookie, etc etc

    • Fred-65

      Personally, I like what they’re doing with Horvat. The fact he can hang at this level means he’s too good to go back to junior, but he doesn’t look like he’s “top six” good yet. He’s on a line that he fits well with, that are defensively sound, heavy on the forecheck and have a decent amount of offensive ability. Coach D actually trusts him in defensive situations. And he gets to get advice from real NHLers every day.

      Considering how most of our prospects have been “developed” the last few years, this is really encouraging.

      Jensen, on the other hand, not so much.

  • Fred-65

    “Ryan Miller, who requested the game specifically from head coach Willie Desjardins.”

    FFS can the organization stop appeasing goalies who make dumb requests.

    Such as when 7uongo decided to graduate to 8uongo by asking AV to leave him in for game 3 vs Boston…

    Obviously an NHL goalie wants to play as much as possible.

    At 34 years old, Miller is on pace to start 65 games in his first full year with a Western Conference travel schedule.

    Maybe he could actually be an average starter if the coaching staff manages him better…

  • Fred-65

    Before the Keith hit, Daniel won the shooting accuracy at the skills competition at the 2011 All Star game. He’s always been among the NHL’s best at hitting the mark when he’s on. It’s nice to see him finally using that aspect of his game again.

    At this point I’ll take Miller’s version of a slow start over Lu’s. Seems like the team wants to help him fight through his tough outings.

    Horvat, well, colour me impressed as well. He’s not just a good faceoff guy. He’s great at his position and covering up for those caught out of theirs. Many times you see him in the defensive zone in proper position to cover for a winger or defenceman in pursuit. Rare for a center his age.

  • Fred-65

    Miller wasn’t as sharp as any of us would have liked but we all have to admit that he made some pretty good saves the last 5 mins or so.

    Too bad to hear about Gordie Howe’s trip to ICUS and Jean Beliveau’s passing….
    Sad day for hockey

    • Fred-65

      I actually think Miller wasn’t as bad as this is making him out to be — the 2nd goal wasn’t nearly as bad as Garret made out to be (he did have a jumping screen in front of him even if he should still have had his paddle down) and the Laich goal was on some terribly sloppy 4 on 4 play and the sheer insanity of Bieksa and Sbisa (who have regressed to being a complete disaster again). He also made some really excellent saves, including right after the 2nd goal and again in the 3rd as well as on that penalty kill.

      Overall I think Miller still worries me, though more for the next couple of years than this one.

      And the comments about Horvat are right on — the more I see him the more impressed I am, not only with the face-offs but he’s got far better skating and puck handling than I had imagined. He’s so strong on the puck and I think this is the perfect line for him — if we were talking about a fourth line of Sestito and whoever he’s wasted but on a line with a rejuvenated Hansen and Dorsett (who’s been far far better than advertised and well worth a 3rd rounder) this is much better developmentally than the OHL. I’m glad to have been wrong on both Dorsett and Horvat, and scared that I’m right about Miller longer term.

  • Fred-65

    I have to agree with PB that Horvat is actually getting a fair shake of the leg with decent linemates (better than decent when they’re in form like they are) and just enough minutes.

    Willie has fed them minutes more in line with a 3rd line, and that reflects his approach to playing the full team. If they’re playing well enough they’ll get the minutes they deserve.

    Miller lets a few soft ones in but stood tall late. So while he’s not winning us games he’s not losing us them either. No denying he needs to play better but his play so far has been acceptable.

  • Fred-65

    Are Kassian’s days with the Canucks numbered? When he gets back from his recent injury, who would he replace? Two weeks ago I would have said Mathias but he has developed a good 200 foot game. Kassian’s stopped playing a heavy game, he’s not getting points and he has too many defensive lapses. IMO he will be shopped this summer because a speedy Jake Virtanen brings more to the table than Kassian.

    • Fred-65

      I don’t think Kassian’s days with the Canucks are numbered. Right now it looks like Kassian is the odd man out but things can change, injuries happen. The Canucks have never this kind of depth in the bottom 6. Coach D has said from day 1 that players get what they earn and right now there is a healthy competition for ice-time between Kassian, Vey, Matthias, Richardson and to an extent Hansen, Dorsett, and Horvat as well. If guys want to stay in the line-up they have to play better. This has allowed Coach D to roll 4 lines and look at the scoring they are getting from the bottom 6 as a result. Having too many bodies definitely isn’t a bad thing. Especially during the playoffs (too soon?).

      • Fred-65

        I would probably still say that Richardson is the odd man out — though he’s looked better in the face-off in recent games, he’s still got hands of stone and can’t finish off. He’s not as big as Matthias, who’s really picked up his game and does that power move to the net really well. Vey is worth keeping for the PP and I don’t think is nearly as bad as people say 5-on-5 (and all this criticism for a guy in his first couple of years? come on, who has more potential, him or Richardson?). None of that bottom six has anything approaching Kassian’s hands, ability to pass, or to drive play. He’s had an injury plagued season but he’s probably the most skilled part of our bottom six. Richardson’s face-offs can be replaced by Horvat and his PK by Dorsett (with Hansen) since Higgins-Burrows and Sedin-Sedin seem to be the other two PK units.

        • Fred-65

          The problem with this theory is that neither Matthias or Vey have proved they can play the C position at a high enough level. I don’t think Vey has proved he can even play in the bottom 6 as a winger either.

          Vey has produced in very cushy PP minutes but generally has looked out of place, although I thought he looked okay on the 2nd line wing during Burrow’s suspension. Vey presents an interesting situation in that he is very valuable on PP but if it wasn’t for his shiny new status and inability to go through waivers he likely wouldn’t be on this healthy roster.

          I could see Horvat replacing Richardson on the ” 3rd” but can’t see the team moving Richardson, his faceoff ability is too important.

          • Fred-65

            I don’t disagree with the idea that this leaves us without a really reliable bottom six c — my sense is that if Richardson isn’t all that good at the dot (and he’s been pretty mediocre this season) then you could have one of Vey or Matthias take the face-off and then shift over. Maybe that wouldn’t make any sense. I wouldn’t mess with the Horvat-Hansen-Dorsett combination as they seem to have gelled well. If it came down to it I’d sit Vey over Kassian.

          • Fred-65

            Matthias got off to a rough start but is starting to come around, he seems to be getting better every game, he recognizes when he makes mistakes and works really hard to get better.

            You are absolutely right about Vey though, he should be playing in the AHL but you have to keep in mind that he has played only 46 NHL games so we have to have some patience.

            “He shouldn’t be playing on this healthy roster.” That is probably true but what if this roster suddenly gets unhealthy? The injury bug can strike at any time and it is beneficial to have players that can at least hold their own that are ready to step in if needed. Having him sit in the press box doesn’t hurt anybody.

            The one thing that worries me about Vey though is the injury to Kassian has provided him with a great opportunity to really step up and prove that he belongs in the NHL but outside of the PP he hasn’t really taken advantage of it. He isn’t doing himself any favors and is quickly playing himself out of a roster spot upon Kassian’s return.

            One thing we have to keep in mind though is we are barely a quarter of the way through the season. The Canucks have 5 new forwards and a new coach, we need to give it a lot more time before we see things take shape.