The Canucks’ blueline has oft been the center of attention in Vancouver through the early goings of the 2022/23 season, and not in the good way.
Having long been considered a problem, Vancouver’s defensive issue have boiled over this year, and it’s left them in a difficult statistical position. As of this writing, the Canucks sit with the sixth-worst record in the entire league, and the results are even worse in their own end. Only the Anaheim Ducks have surrendered more goals against than the Canucks’ 58. No team in the NHL has a worse record on the penalty kill.
To make a bad situation even uglier, fingers have already begun to be pointed. POHO Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin have been quick to throw Bruce Boudreau and his “structure” under the bus, whereas most fans and media seem to agree that the blame lies more with management and the collections of defenders they’ve put together. Boudreau, for his part, refuses to blame anyone.
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But while the Vancouver blueline’s performance can be seen as the expected sum of its parts, not all of those parts are created equal, and through an examination of each defense pairing’s isolated statistical results, we can begin to see what’s actually working for them — and what’s really not.
Working: Quinn Hughes and Luke Schenn
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
111:03
10
4
50.26%
50.62%
46.99%
57.14%
All even-strength stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com
No surprises here. Over the past two seasons, it’s sometimes seemed as though the Hughes/Schenn pairing is the only thing that works in Vancouver, and it’s continued to roll in 2022/23.
Hughes and Schenn take on a greater-than-league-average quality of competition, and come out of it ahead in every regard other than scoring chances. When they’re out there, they are singlehandedly keeping the Canucks’ head above water, which is why Boudreau has gone right back to this pairing as the default.
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Not Working: Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
144:04
8
5
43.94%
46.89%
47.29%
50.00%
On the one hand, the numbers you see listed above here are probably better than you expected. OEL and Myers have played the most together of any Canucks’ pairing, and they’ve managed to be on the ice for more goals for than against. Good, right?
Unfortunately, in columns like expected goals and Corsi, we can see the gaps in the armor showing. Anyone who has watched the game can also tell you that this pairing’s own-zone coverage has been dreadful, and that even these modest stats are probably a fair bit higher than they should be — or will be, given more time.
Working: Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ethan Bear
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
27:51
2
1
55.10%
68.59%
57.69%
75.00%
If there’s one way in which Bear has made an immediate positive impact since joining the Canucks, it’s on occasional D partner Ekman-Larsson. This pairing has performed the statistical best of any Canucks pairing, and although the sample size is limited, their on-ice control of chances is still notable and impressive.
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Moving forward, this is a duo that fans should be hoping to see a lot more of.
Not Working: Jack Rathbone and Kyle Burroughs
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
32:55
0
1
33.85%
43.63%
34.48%
40.00%
Coming into the year, many had a Rathbone/Burroughs duo penciled in as the Canucks’ bottom pairing. And while each defender has had various levels of success while in the lineup, none of that success has come with the two of them paired together.
Though they’ve only been scored on once thus far, Rathbone and Burroughs have been absolutely caved into their own end, and that’s with fairly sheltered deployment. For whatever reason, both players clearly need more support than each other whenever they do make it into the lineup.
Working: Guillaume Brisebois and Luke Schenn
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
34:34
2
2
42.62%
68.08%
55.17%
66.67%
Hands up if you knew that Brisebois/Schenn was the Canucks’ third-most frequent D pairing through 14 games on the 2022/23.
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Hands up even higher if you knew that said pairing was also one of the Canucks’ best-performing.
Call it a statistical anomaly if you will, but the numbers don’t lie. Brisebois and Schenn played a few games of steady, steady hockey together, and limited chances with aplomb despite spending a lot of time in their own end. It’s something to keep an eye out for the next time injuries strike, at the very least.
Not Working: Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
15:25
1
0
44.00%
16.25%
37.50%
30.00%
When Myers first came to Vancouver, he and Hughes were able to pair together semi-effectively. Since then, however, they’ve been awful for one another, and that trend has continued well into 2022/23.
Boudreau has wisely kept this pairing apart as much as possible, but when they have got out there together, they’ve continued to absolutely bleed scoring chances against. Each player employs a fairly free-wheeling style out there on the ice, but those styles plainly do not mix.
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Working: Riley Stillman and Kyle Burroughs
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
23:45
2
1
54.76%
70.07%
57.14%
70.00%
The only place in which Stillman has seemingly worked out on the Canucks’ blueline is on the bottom pairing, playing sheltered and hardy minutes alongside Burroughs. The hard-hitting duo has played limited minutes against bottom-six competition, but they’ve done a miraculous job of keeping shots to the outside and dumping pucks out of their zone.
Together, Stillman and Burroughs are forced to keep it simple, and that’s probably for the best for both of them.
Not Working: Riley Stillman and Luke Schenn
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
14:46
0
1
31.03%
15.19%
23.08%
25.00%
Schenn’s remarkable steadying presence appears to reach its limit when it comes to steadying Stillman. Again, we’re dealing with a miniscule sample size here, but the numbers are eye-poppingly bad. When you’ve taken more than 15 shifts together and given up four times as many high-danger chances as your team has had in that time period, there’s a major problem, and it’s one that the Canucks shouldn’t give much more opportunity to grow.
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Not Working: Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Kyle Burroughs
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
30:09
0
2
46.15%
27.16%
35.00%
33.33%
For whatever reason, OEL and Burroughs just do not work together. On paper, they might look like a pseudo-effective shutdown pairing, but that does not match with their 33.33% (repeating, of course) control of high-danger chances or their straight-up pathetic 27.16% xG through more than 30 minutes of paired play.
Burroughs is the kind of player who needs support from a partner, and OEL has been a boat anchor a lot of the time he’s been on the ice in 2022/23. This is a bad mix, and will probably continue to be whenever used.
Not Working: Jack Rathbone and Ethan Bear
EV TOI Together
EV Goals For
EV Goals Against
Corsi
xG%
Scoring Chances
High-Danger Scoring Chances
23:00
1
1
38.10%
37.18%
42.86%
38.46%
Look, we were all excited at the prospect of a ‘Bone-Bear pairing and all of the great puns that could spring forth from it. But the early returns are not great. Together, this pairing has been caved in, no matter which statistical column one looks at. It’s only been a couple of games, and there’s still time for it to turn around, but the Canucks may want to find Rathbone a partner he gels better with if they’re going to continue to put him into the lineup.
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