If you were somehow able to only listen in to Sunday night’s broadcast of the opening game of the second-round matchup between the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights, then, for one, we’re all a little bit jealous of you.
For another, you probably would have walked away with the impression that the Canucks had come up against the most dominant force in all of hockey – some hybrid of Connor McDavid and the Incredible Hulk – in the form of Ryan Reaves.
The broadcasting duo of Chris Cuthbert and Louie DeBrusk made Reaves a central component in the narrative of game one. You could hear the tenor in their voice rise whenever he hit the ice. The intermissions featured breathless recaps of Reaves’ quite literal chirps from the bench. The broadcasting team spent more time breaking down Antoine Roussel’s strategy of engaging Reaves than they did on either team’s attempts to win the actual hockey game.
One 5-0 loss and a day to ponder it later, and it’s all anyone seems to be asking about — just how are the Canucks going to counter the awe-inspiring presence of Ryan Reaves?
On that front, we’ve got some good news and some bad news to share.
The bad news is that the Canucks look way over their heads in this series and will need to act quickly to construct a game-plan that addresses the disparity in skill and experience that was on display Sunday night.
The good news is that countering Reaves specifically should be a very small part of that game-plan and that the Vancouver fanbase has probably already expended more stress and worry about him than is warranted given his actual impact on the ice.
‘Chicken’ out the stats
Unfortunately, there are no available statistics for “barnyard sound effects per 60 minutes” in the NHL, but we do have a bevvy of statistics with which to judge Reaves’ overall performance in Game One.
Ryan Reaves is savage. Making chicken noises at Antoine Roussel pic.twitter.com/cSV45kUhNN
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) August 24, 2020
Reaves scored no goals or points on Sunday, and notched just a single shot on goal. He did lay an astounding 11 hits on the Canucks, but none of those hits resulted in so much as a turnover or takeaway.
True, Reaves did get an outsized 14:50 of even-strength ice-time, second among Knights forwards. But that’s as much a reflection of the out-of-reach score, and Reaves’ role as an on-ice peacekeeper, than anything.
Nine of Reaves’ 19 shifts came after the Knights went up 4-0 at the tail-end of the second period.
In a game in which five different opponents scored on them, the Canucks definitely had bigger things — in the figurative sense, anyway — to worry about than Ryan Reaves.
On Twitter, much has been made of Reaves’ possession numbers:
Yet Sportsnet would have you believe that the Canucks need to plan for Reaves. https://t.co/NHNEV4enwq
— Sean Warren (@SeanyeWest234) August 24, 2020
when ryan reaves makes you pull out the corsi numbers hes already won the battle https://t.co/tWG2sOQcX4
— Tony X (@soIoucity) August 24, 2020
It should be noted that, while Reaves does have an overall Corsi For of 54.69% in the postseason as a whole, that’s the third-worst rate among regular-skating Vegas forwards. In fact, not a single Vegas player currently has a Corsi rating below 50%.
In other words, the best strategy the Canucks can employ against Reaves is no strategy at all. With him on the ice, the Canucks have better odds of putting up scoring chances than they do with him off the ice. Thus, the more Reaves is on the ice, the better — though it’s important to mention that the Canucks should avoid increasing Reaves’ ice-time by the same method they did on Sunday, which was losing by several goals, if at all possible.
Roussel vs. Reaves
There’s a notion floating around social media that Antoine Roussel was dominated by Reaves in game one, or that the lead Vancouver agitator needs to leave the Vegas enforcer — and by extension, his teammates — alone to avoid a similar fate in future games.
That’s a great picture! Haha
Roussel needs to leave Reaves alone to have successful series https://t.co/LTmpVCUJGs
— Rink Guy Robb Dahlen (@ClutterPuck) August 24, 2020
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As evidenced by those aforementioned possession stats, Roussel had a much better night than Reaves did — aside from that highly-questionable ten-minute misconduct. Roussel even threw ten hits of his own to nearly matching Reaves’ 11, though we acknowledge that all hits are not created equal.
Still, the matchup of Roussel, along with linemates Adam Gaudette and Brandon Sutter, against Reaves and the Vegas fourth line is a coup for the Canucks. Together, that unit put up an astonishing Corsi For of 83.33% through about seven minutes of even-strength ice, and it was clear at times that their speed and tenacious forechecking had Reaves and his linemates overwhelmed.
Plus, there’s also the benefit of having Reaves direct all of his thunderous checks at the Roussel’s and Sutter’s of the team and not, for example, the Elias Pettersson’s.
Forget adjusting the strategy. The Canucks should be worried that coach Pete DeBoer is going to use his home-ice advantage to try to get away from this particular matchup.
If Roussel remains in Reaves’ periphery for the entirety of the series, that’s an advantage to the Canucks.
Those pesky intangibles
That’s probably enough Reaves-bashing for now. It’s at this point that this author will choose to mention that, in addition to everything said here, Reaves is also fun, brash, full of personality, and outspoken on social issues. In short, he’s everything the NHL needs more of right now.
And, as Thomas Drance adroitly pointed out, Reaves still managed to make an impression in game one even without touching the scoresheet — and it mostly comes down to those pesky intangibles.
I honestly don't know how you watch that game last night and conclude that Ryan Reaves *wasn't* a big factor. He was!
Artful performance playing right on that edge without stepping over it. https://t.co/qRH3ERhIZy
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) August 24, 2020
True, for all those Corsi events against, scoring chances were knotted at 4-4 while Reaves was on the ice.
But more than that, Reaves helped his team win by lifting their spirits with his antics and crushing those of the Canucks with his physicality and bullying behaviour. Call it intimidation, call it “having to look over your shoulder,” call it whatever. The point is, Reaves is the sort of unique and unpredictable factor that the Canucks just don’t have on the roster.
In terms of intangibles, Reaves is always going to make an impact. It’s just important that the Canucks not place too outsized an importance on countering that impact, because it was only a small part of why they were blown out on Sunday. Countering the likes of Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith is not only more vital to achieving victory in the series, but it’s also — believe it or not — significantly more possible for the Canucks.
Vancouver might find a strategy to shut down the potent Vegas offence, but they are not going to find a way to stop Ryan Reaves from being Ryan Reaves. The best method moving forward is to accept him for what he is and try to convert some of the possession he bleeds into genuine scoring opportunities and just leave it at that.
The idiocy of dressing Zack MacEwen just to fight
The Canucks should especially forget about the idea that dressing Zack MacEwen — a 24-year-old rookie who belongs at least one weight-class below Reaves — and having him drop the gloves is going to make any sort of a difference.
In all likelihood, MacEwen loses the fight, and that just gives Reaves yet another opportunity to showcase his physical superiority.
On the off-chance that MacEwen draws or even wins the bout, however, would that really make much of a difference?
Surely, no one believes that MacEwen is going to deliver a beating so bad that it convinces Reaves to stop running roughshod over the Canucks. Surely, no one is operating under the delusion that, after serving his five-minute major for fighting, Reaves is going to suddenly change the way he plays, for fear of future reprisals?
Let’s face it — Reaves is a nuclear deterrent, and the Canucks, much like the nation they now represent, are a nuke-free entity. The best they can do now is make like Doctor Strangelove, stop worrying, and learn to accept the bomb.
And to hope that it never goes off in the vicinity of their star players.