The NHL’s new implemented 3-on-3 overtime format has been nothing short of a revelation in a league where offence goes to die. It’s ice hockey, on steroids. There’s so much space, time and open ice for the league’s best to work with and the results have been exhilarating.
Unless you’re a Canucks fan, of course. This new format has been nothing short of soul-sucking, as the Canucks have been worked regularly at 3-on-3 dropping nine of twelve contests in the inaugural campaign (according to www.Hockey-Reference.com).
With the All-Star Game adopting the 3-on-3 format – with each division sending a team of their own to play in a round-robin tournament – let’s have a look at where the Canucks have fared by this state and where they compare leaguewide.
While the Canucks are posting a 3-9 record in overtime games that do not make it to overtime, there’s been a fair amount of improvement of late. In their last four overtime appearances, the Canucks have amassed three wins to the one loss. That streak was kickstarted by a Jannik Hansen overtime goal against the Edmonton Oilers on Boxing Day – the first of its kind for this franchise.
As Thomas Drance remarked in his most recent appearance on Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy, the scoring pace has slowed considerably as the season has worn on and I don’t think it’s sheer coincidence that the Canucks have found their place in this environment at a similar pace. This graph is especially telling and coincides almost perfectly with the Canucks finding their 3-on-3 footing…
(graph originally used at www.Sportsnet.ca)
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Willie Desjardins has tinkered with his deployments to get more speed in the overtime lineup, courtesy the crown jewels in the Canucks youth movement. As the ice-time of players like Jared McCann, Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen has increased, it’s come at the expense of some veterans who were perhaps not suited to the high-flying, high-end gimmicky format.
The infusion of youth also highlighted a stark departure from the Canucks previously ascribed to overtime format, which was to hang on for dear life in the hopes of taking the opposition to a shootout. In the words of the aforementioned Drance, a “penalty kill mindset”, as it were.
What makes a game state like 3-on-3 so appealing is the room it affords more talented players. There are four fewer players on the ice and so much more space. It should come as no surprise then that there is more variability in the underlying data in this state of play then. The cream has more space to rise to the top, and so on.
At the team level, there’s a roughly 40% distribution gap in Corsi For%; individually, think triple-digits. For a team like the Canucks, there’s not a lot to look into where rate production is concerned. The team has amassed three goals at this level of play, so yeah… Digging through that would be a fools errand.
Compared to the rest of the league, the Canucks have struggled to generate high-danger scoring chances but sit towards the middle of the pack by suppression. Their struggles are similarly marked by Corsi%, as the Canucks are near the bottom of the pack there as well. Not especially different from their results at even-strength, but a situation that bears monitoring all the same.
As the Canucks are departing from their conservative means to a shootouts end, I would expect that they continue to acclimate better to the new overtime format. It doesn’t help that the Canucks two best players aren’t very well suited to the game, though, so expectations should be tempered.
As I’ve outlined, the Canucks are likely better than their record has indicated all season and this recent string of victories is likely regression towards their true talent level. This a team nowhere near as bad as their 0-8 record once indicated, but likely further removed from the team that has gone 3-1 since. I can’t say with any certainty the Canucks fortunes will normalize by this metric, but were I a betting man, I’d expect that they settle in on a much less polarized part of the spectrum.