Over the course of the season, I have been writing down all of my thoughts and observations about the Canucks in a notebook that I originally bought a couple years back for taking notes in University. While the latter did not happen, at least the notebook has gotten good use. Sorry, Mom.
Usually, these thoughts connect over multiple games and I can create fully-fledged pieces out of them, but other times, there are ones that don’t warrant an entire article. So, I figured I would combine a couple of the smaller observations I’ve had since the beginning of December and write a piece about them. Let me know if this is something that would be of interest in the future as it seems a lot of other writers are adopting this style as well.
Since Alexander Edler went down with an injury on November 30th, Oscar Fantenberg has provided exactly what Jim Benning sought when he inked him to a one-year contract on July 1. He was signed to support Vancouver’s top-six and serve as a reliable 7th defenceman, upgrading on journeyman Alex Biega. While making up for Edler’s 23:38 will have to be done by committee, Fantenberg has been one of the key contributors on the left side of the blueline. Over seven games, the 28-year-old is averaging a career-high of 16:57 in ice-time while mainly playing with Chris Tanev or Troy Stecher.
Against middle-of-the-lineup competition, the Canucks have received a simple and reliable effort out of Fantenberg through December. He has kept good gaps against fast teams like the Maple Leafs, Hurricanes, and Golden Knights and has displayed the necessary situational awareness to make the high-percentage play to move the puck out of danger. This has resulted in Fantenberg being the only defenceman in Vancouver’s last seven games to have zero even-strength goals against.
Using data from evolving-hockey.com, through the last seven games Oscar Fantenberg leads all Canucks defencemen in expected-goals and shots-against per-60.
His defensive acumen over this stretch is even more impressive when looking at how his high-danger shot suppression compares with the rest of the league. This heatmap from hockeyviz.com paints Fantenberg as an elite shot suppressor, especially against shot attempts from the slot. Combine his low shots-against per-60 with his low expected-goals-against and we begin to see why his heatmap shows an ocean of blue. Although it’s a small sample, once Alex Edler returns there is a legitimate argument for Fantenberg to replace Jordie Benn on the left side.
The Canucks recently welcomed Brandon Sutter back into their lineup in a fourth-line role. The emergence of Adam Gaudette as a capable offensive third-line centre in Sutter’s absence allows the Canucks to have options down the middle in their bottom-six. Jay Beagle, when healthy, is a fixture on the Canucks fourth-line but the flexibility Travis Green has with Brandon Sutter who can play both centre and wing means that Adam Gaudette needs to continue to show that he can handle his current role as the team’s third centre.
Below is data on Gaudette’s main centre opposition in December as well as the head-to-head shot share. As we can see, Travis Green has been deploying Gaudette in a sheltered role away from opposing team’s top lines and mainly in matchups against second and third lines. Sebastian Aho, Joe Thornton, and Paul Stastny are formidable adversaries at the centre position but past them, Gaudette has been against players that one would expect of a sheltered scoring third line. While he has outscored his opposition five to four in this time, his predictive metrics have not been as favourable. He is controlling only 41.45% of the expected-goals and 43.62% of the shot attempts. Green has also tried to give his scoring third line favourable zone starts as Gaudette has the highest offensive-zone start percentage on the team according to naturalstattrick.com.
|Opponent||5v5 TOI Against||Gaudette’s SAT +/-||Opponent’s Role|
|Graetan Haas||3:36||-6||Oilers 4th line|
|Riley Sheahan||3:31||+3||Oilers 3rd line|
|Colin White||4:55||-1||Senators 3rd line|
|Chris Tierney||2:39||+1||Senators 2nd line|
|Marcus Johansson||4:36||-1||Sabres 2nd line|
|Johan Larsson||3:43||-2||Sabres 3rd line|
|Alexander Kerfoot||4:34||-3||Leafs 3rd line|
|Nic Petan||3:43||-1||Leafs 4th line|
|Lucas Wallmark||6:09||-5||Hurricanes 3rd line|
|Sebastian Aho||2:37||-1||Hurricanes 2nd line|
|Joe Thornton||6:10||-4||Sharks 2nd line|
|Melker Karlsson||3:46||+1||Sharks 3rd line|
|Paul Stastny||4:42||-4||Golden Knights 3rd line|
|Chandler Stephenson||3:39||-3||Golden Knights 2nd line|
Although his statistics have been underwhelming lately, there were a couple of defensive plays from Gaudette that impressed me in the game against the Maple Leafs. The first comes from a great effort on the backcheck where he identifies the upcoming play and keeps his feet moving. He recognizes that the puck is going to be dropped back to Pierre Engvall and because of his efforts, is able to get a stick on the puck negate any Engvall’s shot.
The second play follows some extended zone time for the Maple Leafs. Toronto is working the puck around the perimeter of Vancouver’s zone and Tyson Barrie sees Kasperi Kapanen open on the opposite wing. Gaudette spots Kapanen and immediately closes out the distance while maintaining awareness on Barrie. Rather than staying in no man’s land, Gaudette has his head on a swivel and makes the proactive play which ultimately allows him to deflect the puck out of play and get a needed change.
If he can consistently make plays like this one, Travis Green will continue to gain confidence in deploying Gaudette as his third-line centre.
Antoine Roussel returned to the Canucks with a bang scoring 3 goals in 2 games on a line with Adam Gaudette. Past those first two games, however, Roussel has had a negative impact on Gaudette defensively and has not provided enough offence to offset his defensive play. In 72 minutes of 5v5 play, the Canucks have been bombarded with an extreme amount of shots when Roussel has been on the ice. According to evolving-wild.com, Antoine Roussel leads Vancouver forwards in shots-against per-60 in the last seven games with 47.19. The next highest is Adam Gaudette with 38.26, nearly a 10 shot difference.
Below is Gaudette’s defensive impact for the Canucks in terms of dangerous shot-attempts-against in his first 207 minutes of the season and then his total impact once factoring in the last four games. The effect Roussel has had on Gaudette and the Canucks in their own zone is noticeable. Seven games is not a large number of games to draw conclusions from, but the Roussel-Gaudette combo has struggled to limit shots against so far. The Canucks as a whole have not played well over this span of games but this pairing is something to keep tabs on.