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 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…