Canucks Army Postgame: No Lack of Offense

The Vancouver Canucks have all hands on deck of late, as everyone keeps finding ways to pitch in for wins. Jannik Hansen recently went on a tear, the Sedins killed the Caps, and tonight the 3rd line of Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, and Linden Vey stole the show – with a little help from Eddie Lack – as Vancouver convincingly brushed aside a very strong Pittsburgh Penguins team by a 3-0 score.

Read past the jump for a full recap of tonight’s win.

The Rundown

Despite playing as good a game as you can against the Pittsburgh Penguins – and Vancouver as a team were fantastic tonight – there were a couple of instances where an inch or two difference here of there could have taken this game in an entirely different direction. One of those instances came right off the bat when Luca Sbisa did a very Luca Sbisa thing and delivered a fresh baked pizza right to the Penguins. Fortunately, nothing came of this early mistake.

The play seemed fairly confined to the neutral zone for a time after that, but then the Canucks took over, led in large part by their surprising 3rd line. After a strong forecheck from Shawn Matthias easily brushed Olli Maatta aside and iced Christian Ehrhoff, the resurgent winger fired a centering pass to Brad Richardson who managed to squeeze a low shot past Thomas Greiss for the 1-0 goal:

It’s been quite the turn around for the much maligned on this blog group of Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, and Linden Vey. They were god awful to start the year, especially in terms of controlling the run of play at 5-on-5, but they’ve been turning that around of late. Not only that, but thanks partly to some favourable variance, their improved play is showing up on the scoresheet.

It still remains to be seen whether the three guys who have been among Vancouver’s worst 5-on-5 players can keep this great play up long term, especially since Matthias in particular hasn’t ever demonstrated that he can be a plus-possession player at the NHL level, but if they can continue to be an effective 3rd unit, that’s fantastic news for Vancouver.

The Penguins were-oh-so-close to tying the game at 1-1 after Alex Edler took a slashing penalty for breaking his stick on Evgeni Malkin. On the ensuing Penguins powerplay, the puck squirted free to Sidney Crosby, who literally had the entire net to shoot at. Like just sitting there. Wide open. Nothing blocking it. And he shanked it off the far post, keeping the game at 1-0. The numbers won’t say that Vancouver was necessarily lucky to win this game since they out-played Pittsburgh, but they sure benefited from some good bounces along the way.

I can’t emphasize how fantastic the third line was tonight. During another strong shift in the dying moments of the first period, Brad Richardson had three whacks at a puck lying in the slot mere feet from Thomas Greiss, but he couldn’t jam one through. Then, early in the second period, a nifty Linden Vey pass was redirected by Matthias off the post, keeping the game at 1-0 still. Vancouver was flat-out dominant for the early 2nd ant late 1st, as they didn’t allow the Penguins to attempt their 10th shot of the game until a minute in to the frame, and didn’t allow an 11th attempt for another 10 or so minutes after that.

The Canucks would eventually turn their pressure into a second goal as another strong forecheck and a low to high pass from the Richardson-Matthias combo paid dividends:

As the Penguins tried to get the puck deep into the Canucks’ zone after an icing call, Ryan Stanton stepped up and crushed Patric Hornqvist, breaking up the play. Brad Richardson played the chip-and-chase perfectly, out-battling Simon Despres behind the net, and passed off to a wide open Shawn Matthias, who made no mistake. It was a really good play by all Vancouver players involved, but at the same time you can’t not comment on just how brutal a change that was for Pittsburgh.

Shortly thereafter, it looked as if Bo Horvat would get an opportunity to pounce on a loose puck and get a breakaway, but he was lit up by Blake Comeau with a textbook bodycheck:

It looked for a moment like it could be interference, but Horvat had enough control of the puck that this was a good non-call to my eyes. To make matters worse, Vancouver took a too many men call in the ensuing confusion.

Brad Richardson’s night to remember continued on the penalty kill though, as he pounced on a Thomas Greiss miscue to put Vancouver ahead 3-0:

There’s a bit of good fortune here on the Canucks part once again, as Jannik Hansen appeared to have knocked the stick out of Greiss’ hands before centering to Richardson. But you have to be good to be lucky, and Richardson sure was good tonight.

After dominating the first two frames, Vancouver predictably sat back in the 3rd and let Eddie Lack put an exclamation point on the night by stopping Sidney Crosby on a breakaway midway through the period. The Penguins would come no closer to scoring, as Lack stopped all 21 shots he faced, and made his mom look like a prophet:

Canucks win 3-0.

The Numbers

G26 v Pittsburgh

Courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the best teams in the eastern conference. Their score adjusted Corsi on the year is 53.4%, just fractions of a percent behind conference leading Tampa Bay. They have the East’s second best goal differential too, and trail only the resurgent New York Islanders in the Metropolitan division. They are a really, really good team.

And the Canucks pretty much just rolled them.

Now, we can’t dismiss the possibility that Vancouver caught the Pens on an uncharacteristically poor night, but this is a very impressive road win nonetheless. The Canucks dominated the middle portion of the game, and score-effected their way through the 3rd for as tidy a win as you’re going to get in the NHL.

The 3rd line, as you may have guessed from the scoring and whatnot, was all-world tonight. Brad Richardson (+15/-3) and Shawn Matthias (+17/-4) both led Vancouver with a Corsi% north of 80%, shredding their main matchup of Andrew Ebbett and Steve Downie. They were also very effective in their short time against Sidney Crosby too, with Matthias going +5/-2 in three minutes head-to-head.

On the other side of the ledger, the fourth line had another tough night at the office as Bo Horvat and Derek Dorsett saw a pretty favourable deployment, both in terms of zone starts and competition, but were brutalized by Zach Sill and Craig Adams. Both Horvat and Dorsett were +0/-10 Corsi against Sill and +0/-8 Corsi against Adams, despite a 100% and 86% OZ start rate respectively. Pretty ghastly stuff. Horvat will deservedly get some slack as he adjusts and learns the NHL game, but this is a worrying trend starting to develop. Hopefully this is just a funk, and he (and Hansen and Dorsett by extension) can pull out of it.

The Conclusion

Vancouver now has some impressive wins against some legitimately great teams in their back pocket, and are pacing all the other weirdly inept Pacific division teams in score-adjusted Fenwick and they just keep winning games and all the lines are scoring and they’ll be hard pressed to miss the playoffs at this point and they may win a round and if they win one they may win two since L.A. and San Jose don’t look great and if you win two you can win three and if you win three–

Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The success so far this season has been absolutely fantastic, but as we learned last January, it can all go south in a hurry. All Vancouver can do is keep busting out the ol’ cliches about taking things one game at a time, and just trying to win the next game on the schedule.

That next game on the schedule just so happens to be on Hockey Night in Canada against the Toronto Maple Leafs this Saturday. HNiC games are always a hell of a time, and this one should be no different. It’s always special when Vancouver beats Toronto in their own back yard.

  • BurningSensation

    Another good win. The third wasn’t as smooth as I’d like to have seen – I think the Sedins and Bieksa need to be off 4 on 4 if they’re going to be as lazy with the puck as they have been the last few games. Sbisa and Bieksa looked like a train wreck on a couple of shifts there. Stanton seems to be getting his game back together and the Horvat line didn’t look as bad as the numbers suggest. Time for Line #2 to step up against TO. I hope Lack gets the start as he’s earned it and Miller can go against the Sens.

  • Probably the best game Richardson has had as a Canuck, if not the best game he’s had in his NHL career.

    Pittsburgh pretty much gave up halfway through the third, too, which was surprising. They didn’t even attempt a shot (or pull their goalie) for the last five minutes of the game.

    The Sedins had one absolutely golden Sedin shift late in the second period where it felt like they cycled the puck in the offensive zone for a good minute or two.

    All in all an excellent effort (hopefully this shutout earns Lack some more starts!)

  • andyg

    “The success so far this season has been absolutely fantastic, but as we learned last January, it can all go south in a hurry.”

    Unlike last year, though, this is a four line team that isn’t running the top players into the ground to win games…

  • That was a complete game from start to finish. Once the third line stepped on the gas there was no stopping them. Really hard on the forecheck and attacking with more speed then the Pens back end could handle. If you’d have told me at the start of the game those guys would outscore the first line of the Pens, I would have been skeptical. Even the fancy stats guys would have puked numbers of mockery…but hey that’s why the games are played. It seems like different guys and aspects of our game are stepping up at the right times this year, which is fun to watch.

    Props to Lack for keeping things under control at the start of the game while we got our legs going. He lets in a goal early and it might be a different story. Maybe Miller knew something we didn’t by asking for last game. Either way, it worked out for the win in a tough building.

  • Couple comments

    This isn’t the 53.4% adjusted Corsi team near the top of the East that you alluded to. No Kunitz, Letang, Bennett, Dupuis. Devastating blow to their top six +loss of an all-star dmen. Still a great game by the Canucks nonetheless though.

    Also, I don’t know what everyone else thought, and those are some grotesque numbers, but I actually thought Horvat looked pretty decent tonight.

    • andyg

      I just ignored everything that was in this piece about Horvat, Hansen and Dorsett. Anybody that has watched the last couple of games and knows anything about hockey would chuckle at the suggestion they are in a funk. If you’re into numbers, fine, but there’s more to a game then the math behind it. Making blind assertions based only on advanced stats isn’t really revealing hockey knowledge.

      • andyg

        I am a big analytics guy, but I don’t like when people draw conclusions from corsi from ONE game. That is ridiculous. You can use them as a guideline for single games, but do not draw conclusions with them.

        • andyg

          I’d rather watch the games and go by what some of my better coaches taught me. We used to keep corsi/fenwick like stats to see who the other teams were leaning on in certain situations, but even then, it wasn’t gospel. They’ve been around for a lot longer than most people think but a good coach will try to throw a wrench into any pattern another team can match.

          Like last night, I thought the Sedin line wasn’t focused on generating offensive chances as much as it was shutting down opportunities. They were great at getting in lanes and clogging the speed of breakouts. Effective strategy that worked for the win, yet some nights it can reflect poorly on the analytics side. For that reason, I’ll go with what I see before I even look at numbers.

  • NM001

    What is wrong with you people?
    Why can’t you just enjoy the current ride of your Canucks team?

    Just accept the fact that this team is winning hockey games.

    Instead you keep complaining that the Canucks are winning because of luck, no (or very few) injuries, or and I quote “…caught the Pens on an uncharacteristically poor night…”. So, basically, what you are saying is that this wins not because the team is good but just because the universe (hockey god…?) is letting them win?

    When it comes to winning a cup there is (and there always was) luck involved in terms of injuries and pucks going in or not. So we can acknowledge the fact and move on.
    At the end the only thing that matters is, that you win no matter what the stats are saying. In a best-of-seven series winning is what counts and when you hoist Lord Stanley nobody asks how good or bad your CF% or any other stats were.

  • andyg

    I’ve only recently started coming to this site and as evidenced by my decision to post I am a canuck’s enthusiast. I have some doubts about the reverence of the advanced statistics analyzed by most ppl here though. It seems that Richardson is some kind of pariah according to corsi and whatever other analytical measurements are being used. This is dumbfounding to me though as clearly he’s an important player valued by both torts and now willie. To me it seems obvious that he is defensively responsible and tenacious. Now if the numbers dont bear this out then i think perhaps there is a flaw in your analysis of this data. This isn’t baseball and in my opinion this new found obsession with statistics seems to be a means of exaggerating a fan’s understanding of what is kind of an insular world. I love the site , and no offense to anyone in particular. I just fealt like commenting and what other forumn if not here. Also how bad can Bieksa be playing if the coach had him on the ice logging more minutes than anyone else. my two cents, rejoice canucks army faithful it’s another contrarion 🙂

    • andyg

      Think of advanced stats as a weather forecast.

      They are quite often wrong. The forecaster will give us a percentage of chance of rain. Even though it may not rain it would be unwise to ignore the signs.

  • andyg

    Regarding Horvat’s performance last night. This is where looking at a single stat like corsi doesn’t paint the whole picture.

    He was a -8 corsi, a -5 fenwick but only 1 shot actually got through to Lack and it wasn’t counted as a legitimate scoring chance. So did his play really hurt the team?

    Corsi doesn’t tell us many other aspects of his game last night. How many zone entries did he break up? How many turnovers did he create? Did he break-up any scoring chances? Did he draw any penalties? How effective was he at gaining the offensive zone with possession and had the unfortunate luck of not creating a corsi event? Did he gain the offensive zone and hold the puck there long enough for the next line to create a corsi event that Horvat wouldn’t have gotten credit for?

    When you look at the big picture, a single stat like corsi really doesn’t tell us anything about how he played last night.

    I am going to preach this until people start listening. You can’t look at corsi in singularity to make assumptions about a player or a teams’ performance. Corsi is but a small piece of a very large puzzle.

    • andyg

      Corsi is like on base percentage or fielding independent pitching in baseball.

      We have a better idea NOW that these metrics are merely one piece of the puzzle.

      But a decade ago these metrics were given more weight because things such as defense, baserunning and positional value were not being measured like they are today.

      “I have to take my share of responsibility for promoting skepticism about things that I didn’t understand as well as I might have,” he says.

      “What I would say NOW is that skepticism should be directed at things that are actually untrue rather than things that are difficult to measure.”

      That’s from Bill James…

      Hockey should learn from where baseball has been and where it is now.

      Just as it NEVER made sense to be a slave to OBP or FIP simply because they were once the best metrics available, it makes no sense to be a slave to the shot differential model.

      How can we be when we are unsure as to how much of the game is shot differential and how much of the game is EVERYTHING else…

      • andyg

        That article you posted was an interesting read. I’ll admin I am not familiar with Bill James’ work. I think I might have to do some reading over the holidays.

        “Just as it NEVER made sense to be a slave to OBP or FIP simply because they were once the best metrics available, it makes no sense to be a slave to the shot differential model.”

        That is very good advice for this generation of bloggers and sports journalists.

  • NM001

    The only issue I have with advanced statistics is that far too much is being made of 10-20 minutes on the ice from game to game.

    Almost every review and article references something where reliably a conclusion cannot be drawn. You would never trade a hitter with a .350 batting average because in one game he went 0-5. Why do we do the same with someone like Horvat. Was it his best game, no, but was it his worst, also no. The reality was that the 4th line had little impact positively or negatively that game. The stats while painting a grim picture do not really give us any information at all. The stats say he was terrible but the reality was watching him play there was nothing good or bad to speak of in his play.

    The stats paint but a small slice of a players stats over the course of a season. To make any conclusion on a players play you need to step back and look at the entire canvas. Horvat has been great of late but did have a stinker in Detroit, and a non event game in Pittsburgh. Overall though he has been good and the trend seems positive.

    The opposite can be said for some players. Bieksa looks like a tire fire out there and has for some time. He was a +5 last game. Now to me he didn’t look like a +5 and he hasn’t been very good lately so do draw a conclusion like Bieksa is now out of his slump and is a top defenceman now is a fallacy. I’m all for advanced stats (it’s why I come to this site) but drawing definitive statements about a player or the teams play by looking at a single games worth of metrics just seems dumb.

  • No one is suggesting trade Horvat because he posted low shot differential in one game. No one who writes at CanucksArmy, and no one who comments seriously, would take a single-game sample as indicative of a player’s overall abilities. No one is drawing definitive conclusions about any player from one game. I can’t see anything in this article or in the comments that follow that could be a basis for thinking that.

    When you’re recapping one game, it is worth talking about how a player performed in *that game*. The fourth line got significantly outshot at evens in the Pittsburgh game the other day – that’s not very good. Is that one game a cause for long-term concern? No. But this is an article about how the Canucks performed in Pittsburgh. Richardson won’t be an 83% corsi player on the season, either, but he had a whale of a game the other day, and Horvat had a mediocre one.