The Canucks’ second line of Mikheyev-Suter-Kuzmenko just isn’t working

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
There’s an awful lot to like about the Vancouver Canucks’ forward corps right now, especially with how they played throughout the just-completed seven-game road trip.
The Canucks went 5-1-1 on the trip, though it might be slightly more accurate to state that the Lotto Line went 5-0-1. Following an initial 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, coach Rick Tocchet reunited Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, and Brock Boeser on a line…and the results really spoke for themselves.
Over the course of the next six games, the Lotto Line produced a cumulative 30 points. The Canucks, as a team, scored 26 goals through the entirety of the road trip. The Lotto Line alone scored 15 of them.
So, it wouldn’t be fair to say that the Lotto Line scored all of the goals. Just 58% of them. There were, of course, contributions from others along the way.
The ostensible third line of Dakota Joshua, Teddy Blueger, and Conor Garland added five goals of their own, a cool-down from their preestablished scoring pace, but still a very reasonable contribution for the minutes and deployment given.
The fourth line of Sam Lafferty, Nils Åman, and Nils Höglander chipped in for three goals of their own.
And the blueline managed three, too, with one each coming from Quinn Hughes, Filip Hronek, and Tyler Myers.
But there’s one group noticeably absent from the list. Despite spending the bulk of the road trip together as a second line, and despite receiving fairly favourable deployment throughout, the trio of Ilya Mikheyev, Pius Suter, and Andrei Kuzmenko were held without a goal through all seven games.
Which is just one piece of evidence among many that the unit just isn’t working out.
Not that evidence is really required in this instance. Anyone watching the games who wasn’t totally dazzled by the Lotto Line would have noticed that Mikheyev-Suter-Kuzmenko didn’t look particularly dangerous, or effective, or even particularly coherent as a unit. They’re just kind of there, and that’s what the numbers say, too.
Take a look at this chart, which covers the trio’s five-on-five time together over the course of the last six games of the road trip:
 MinutesGoals ForGoals AgainstShots ForShots Against
From NaturalStatTrick
Six games together as a second line, and literally zero on-ice offence. Only two goals against might sound fine, but even that is less-than-impressive in context, as you’ll see in a moment.
The unit is not even generating four shots on net per game total, and are giving up more than they take. This is not the behaviour of a scoring line.
Now let’s take a look at some slightly fancier stats:
 CorsiExpected GoalsScoring ChancesHigh-Danger Scoring ChancesOffensive Zone Starts
From NaturalStatTrick, 5v5 minutes
The analytics are even more damning. That 52.85% Corsi might not look bad, until one realizes that all Corsi measures is shots directed toward the net. A high Corsi, but a low control of high-danger scoring chances and expected goals, makes sense for a line whose top offensive talent, Kuzmenko, has too often been a perimeter player this season.
The Mikheyev-Suter-Kuzmenko line gets caved in when it comes to the fancy stats that most determine on-ice success. These numbers tell a story of a line that is lucky to come out of the road-trip with only two goals against.
The most troubling column on the chart of all is that offensive zone starts. They show that Mikheyev-Suter-Kuzmenko have been deployed like a scoring line, with downright sheltered minutes. In fact, they might be said to have received favourable deployment even for a scoring line, what with all the attention drawn by the Lotto Line.
That left Mikheyev-Suter-Kuzmenko with a lot of starts in the offensive end against bottom-six and less-than-defensively-sound competition.
They still didn’t manage a single goal through five straight wins and an overtime loss.
While we’re still in a statistical mood, it’s worth pointing out just how negative of an impact being placed on this line has had on Suter’s numbers in particular. Previously, he’d been the versatility king, fitting in well wherever Tocchet put him in the lineup.
 MinutesGoals ForGoals AgainstxGF%Scoring ChancesHigh-Danger Scoring Chances
Suter without Mikheyev and Kuzmenko227:289251.69%53.16%52.22%
From NaturalStatTrick
In nearly four times as many minutes away from Mikheyev and Kuzmenko, as compared to with them, Suter has allowed the same number of goals against, but been on the ice for an additional nine in favour. His expected goals and control of scoring chances are also much, much higher.
And that’s with Suter’s time away from his linemates often coming in much more defensively-oriented situations.
Suter has been able to do everything for the Canucks this season. Everything…except center this line effectively.
Which is the final piece of evidence we’ll offer, and the nail in the coffin that proves the unit just isn’t working out at all.
Still, there’s knowing that, and then there’s being able to doing something about it. The Canucks won’t want to break the Lotto Line up anytime soon. Nor will they be particularly interested in disrupting the flow of the Joshua-Blueger-Garland “third” line, which has been on a roll even longer.
That leaves the coaching staff in an awkward spot. The only solution available at the moment seems to be breaking up Mikheyev, Suter, and Kuzmenko, and starting to shuffle pieces from lower in the lineup, or even outside of it, up to the second line for a trial run.
Knock Kuzmenko out of the lineup again, and put Höglander in his place. Or let Lafferty ride shotgun with Kuzmenko and Suter for a couple of games. Maybe it’s time to give Vasily Podkolzin a recall and another shot at a top-six job.
Whatever the solution is, it’s now clear what it isn’t, and that’s a second line of Mikheyev, Suter, and Kuzmenko.
With everything else going as well as it ever has for the Vancouver Canucks, their lack of success sticks out like a sore thumb.

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