If there is a hockey god, my prayer to him
or her would be for November to never end. Make no mistake about it, I want to
live in a world where Jannik Hansen can score a hat trick and Luca Sbisa can
run through Patrick Kane like bad food court sushi. I want to live in a world
where Ryan Miller is better than Cory Schneider, where Bo Horvat is the best
Canucks rookie since Trevor Linden, and the Canucks are better than the Sharks
and Blackhawks. November was fun. Long live November.
Of course, it was not all sunshine, rainbows,
and puppy dogs. Find out what I thought about the Canucks November after the
After cruising through an October schedule
where the league threw the Canucks a ton of softballs, many people, including myself,
expected the Canucks to stumble in November when facing stiffer competition
from the likes of the Kings, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Sharks, Ducks and
Predators. By no means were the Canucks flawless. They were handed losses by
the resurgent Predators, buoyed by future 2015 Calder winner Filip Forsberg and
Pekka Rinne, who seems determined to regain his mantle
as one of the league top goalies. They were outclassed against the Kings (yet
again), they failed to show up against a vastly inferior Coyotes team, and they
fell short in net and defensively against a strong Detroit team.
Other than that, things went almost
perfectly for the Canucks. The won a game they had no business winning against
the Sharks, they convincingly crushed a Blackhawks team which is still very
much the class of the NHL, they mounted a very impressive comeback versus the Avs,
they split points with the Anaheim Mighty Kesler’s, and Miller posted a pair of
shutouts against the Columbus and New Jersey. They collected 8 out of a
possible 10 points against this month’s lottery opponents (Edmonton x 2,
Ottawa, Columbus, and Arizona), which is exactly what you’d expect good teams
They exited November with a 16-7-1 record,
which was 1 point back of top spot on the NHL. They enter December continuing
their 7 game road trip, which will see them play the Capitals, Penguins, Maple
Leafs, Senators, and Canadiens. The
Capitals, Senators, and Canadiens will all be highly motivated to avenge their
losses to the Canucks from earlier in the year, so this should make for an
entertaining road trip, to say the least.
The graph below shows the save percentage
for Lack and Miller in the first two months of the year:
On the positive side, in his three starts
and one relief effort, Eddie Lack was significantly better than he was in
October, posting a very respectable .922 SV% in the month of November.
Hopefully he can build off these efforts and earn some additional playing time.
Ryan Miller, on the other hand, ran either
red hot, or ice cold this month. On the one hand, he had two shutouts. On the
other, he played 4 games where he gave up 4 or more goals. He failed to stop
over 90% of the shots he faced in 5 of his 11 starts, but did well enough in
his other 6 that was able to bring his save percentage in line with the league
average. For a while now I’ve been claiming that Ryan Miller is average goalie at best, but I suppose a better way of describing him is predictably unpredictable, with an upside of average. Not exactly the value you’re hoping for at a $6M AAV, especially with the backdrop of a potentially stagnating salary cap next summer.
The table above shows even-strength CF% for
each defender by month, and year to date. On the positive side, the Edler and Tanev
pairing continue to play excellent hockey, and after a slow start the Bieksa
and Hamhuis pairing turned their possession numbers around in November, prior
to Hamhuis’ lower body injury. In my October report, I expressed a fair amount
of skepticism that Luca Sbisa was in fact as good as his corsi numbers
indicated, so it wasn’t a complete surprise that his possession numbers have
come down to earth in November, however Ryan Stanton’s play thus far has beenmiles away from what I expected from him.
Because of the Hamhuis injury, Willie Desjardins
has had to shuffle is pairings around a bit. Here is a look at defensemen
corsi-for percentage with each of their most common playing partners with the
current pairings per dailyfaceoff.com highlighted in green:
By the chart above, you have to think
someone within the Canucks’ coaching staff is a user of stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
The first thing that jumps off the table for me, is that Ryan Stanton has been
an absolute train wreck when paired with anyone other than Yannick Weber, so
without Hamhuis in the lineup, a Stanton/Weber tandem is a very logical choice
as the Canucks third pair.
At 53.5 CF%, the Edler/Tanev pairing is
right up there with the top defensive tandems in the league, so Desjardins is wise
to not make changes to this pairing as a result of the Hamhuis injury.
Similarly, the Bieksa/Sbisa pairing hasn’t played a ton together so far this
season, but when they did play together they did very well in terms of both
corsi for (55.5%) as well as goals for (60%), so it’s worth giving this line a
chance even after watching them struggle the way they did against Detroit onSunday.
Obviously, the Canucks can’t wait to get
Hamhuis back in the lineup, but if the current pairings can continue to produce
as they have in the recent past, the defensive core should be able to tread water
until Hamhuis returns.
Although their offensive production has
dipped slightly in November after a white hot October start, the Sedins and
Vrbata have continued to produce at elite possession levels.
The Bonino-Higgins-Burrows line has probably
been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season thus far, with Nick
Bonino leading the team in even strength points with 18. Granted, the line is
still benefiting from a high on-ice even-strength shooting percentage. Bonino, in particular, has a 10.33% on-ice shooting percentage, which ranks 44th
out of 336 forwards who have played more than 15 games so far this season (14th
percentile). While, I think some regression is likely for Bonino, based on what
I’ve seen from him so far, I don’t think it’s out of the question that he’s
able to maintain an above average (ie >8%) on-ice shooting percentage
through the season. If he does, that would provide the Canucks with a very solid top two lines.
While Bonino has received much of the
attention so far this season, as a result of his strong play since arriving in
the Kesler trade, the unsung hero on this line is none other than Alex Burrows,
which became increasingly evident in the 5 games that Burrows was out of the
lineup. Here are Higgins and Bonino’s even strength possession numbers with and
There has been a lot of talk about the
Canucks being a team with three third lines. However, the even strength
corsi-for numbers for the Burrows, Bonino, Higgins line when on the ice
together and their points/60 minutes figures are all consistent with first line
production. If they can keep up their current possession trend and avoid a
significant regression in on-ice shooting percentage, they will end the year in
the discussion as one of the better 2nd lines in the league.
The bottom two lines are a different matter.
Here is a look at the most common even-strength combinations, with current
lines highlighted in green from dailyfaceoff.com:
Right off the bat, we can see the impact of
Matthais and Richardson losing Kassian from their line, as they drop from a
~49% even-strength corsi-for, which is what you’d expect from an average middle-6 line, to 47%, which is below average for a third line. The Vey,
Matthais, Richardson group had a great game against Detroit, recording all three
goals for the team. Hopefully, they can continue this going forward, although I
do have some skepticism as Vey has been a possession anchor in general this
The fourth line of Dorsett, Hansen, and
Horvat has been eaten alive so far this season from a possession standpoint,
but when you look a bit deeper an interesting trend emerges. According to
war-on-ice.com, Horvat’s corsi competition (the TOI-weighted Corsi% for a
player’s competition) was 51%, which aligns with first or second-line
competition from a possession standpoint. Combined with his 46.97% offensive
zone-starts (lowest 40% of NHL forwards), and it’s no surprise his overall
possession numbers are where they are.
Horvat is the exact opposite of a
typical sheltered rookie, although his possession numbers to date are far from acceptable. They should improve as he gets acclimatized to the NHL and as his usually effective linemates round in to form, however. In terms of tangible production, Horvat, Hansen, and Dorsett have been nothing short of exceptional.
The table below shows key statistics for the
Canucks when at even-strength, on the power play, or on the penalty kill, for
October, November, this year-to-date, and last year:
At even strength it’s hard to say the
Canucks have made any improvements over last year, except of course being more
fortunate in the area of shooting percentage. They’re actually posting a worse
save percentage and CF% than the prior year, so there’s definitely reason for
concern that the Canucks are punching above their weight-class. That said, as I discuss
above, there is some reason to believe the overall even-strength CF% could
improve if the team is able to maintain the possession trends they have seen when deploying their optimal line combinations on the ice.
On the power play, the Canucks experienced
a major regression in November in terms of the number of shot attempts per 60
minutes of ice time (PP CF/60). With a lower frequency of shot attempts they’ve
seen their goals for per 60 minutes of ice time (PP GF/60) plummet from top ten in the league to the bottom ten. This should
be a major area of concern and focus for the coaching staff.
The penalty kill, led by the Tanev/Edler
pairing, and most commonly Richardson and Higgins up front, has been sublime this year,
allowing one of the lowest shot attempts against (PK CA/60) in the league.
Unfortunately, they’re PK save-percentage in November was one of the worst in
the league, so the overall numbers don’t give their penalty killers the credit
their due. That said, the ability of this PK group to limit shot attempts the
way they have is impressive, and if Ryan Miller can do his job in net, they’ll be one
of the better penalty killing teams in the league.
So what is the big picture? The
underlying number clearly indicate that the Canucks aren’t as good as their
record indicates, but they also point to areas of optimism, in particular the top two lines, the penalty kill, and the play of long-time Canucks Army favorite, Bo Horvat.
At the 24 game
mark, the Canucks have accumulated 33 points, so assuming the low-water market to
get into the wild card spot is 90 points again this year, the Canucks will only
have to play .500 hockey the rest of the way to make it into the post season. There’s nothing I’m seeing in the underlying numbers that would convince me
they can’t play .500 hockey the rest of the way, so it may be time to start bracing ourselves Vancouver fans: we may actually be looking at a playoff team.