Evaluating the Canucks Against the Pacific’s Elite
The road to a playoff spot in the Pacific division goes through the three California teams, so as the Canucks are in the middle of three straight vs the Ducks, Sharks and Kings, it’s worth taking a look at whether Vancouver has actually improved their play against their division rivals. Through Monday night the Canucks have played five games against teams from California and we’ll compare those against the Canucks first five from 2013-14 to see whether or not the good guys are playing better hockey against the Pacific’s elite.
Before we get into the stats it’s worth noting that the number of times they have played each team is different between the two seasons, however, the last three games are played exactly the same way – in San Jose, off day, and then concluding with back-to-backs in Los Angeles and Anaheim. In both samples, the Canucks got dominated in Los Angeles before a bounce back performance in Anaheim.
|Corsi For 5-on-5||210 (48.2%)||225||195 (42.2%)||267|
|Corsi For Close 5-on-5||124 (49.4%)||127||146 (44.1%)||185|
|Shots For Close 5-on-5||64||60||68||123|
*In 2013-14 there were 120 minutes of 5-on-5 close time
*In 2014-15 there were 178 minutes of 5-on-5 close time.
This is a somewhat simplistic comparison using a small sample size but one thing is obvious – the Canucks, despite getting better results against the division’s best this season, are not playing better hockey against them to this point of the season.
In the first 5 games of this season, the Canucks have a 2-1-2 record good enough for six out of a ten possible points. Last season, they were 1-4-0 for 2 points during the same span. In fact, if the Canucks can gain just one more point this season against the trio they’ll have equalled the seven points they earned all of last season in 14 games.
One other thing to note is that while the possession numbers are significantly better for last years version of the Canucks, all of the games were played before Torts ran them off the edge of a cliff and were never to be found again.
Other takeaways from the actual numbers show that the Canucks are giving up way more shot attempts to their opponents this season compared to last. This can be explained by the extremely defensive game plan employed by Tortorella last season. Even with Desjardins four-line ‘let them play’ approach the Canucks haven’t managed to equal the offensive output of Tortorella’s.
On the positive side of things, the Canucks have played some of their best hockey this season against the Ducks, who are currently leading the division. Save for Sunday night’s debacle that still earned them a point, the Canucks put together a gritty performance on November 9th after playing in Los Angeles the night before, winning 2-1 in a shootout and on November 20th at home, out attempting the Ducks 52-37 and 34-25 in close score situations. Those results give some hope that the team can hang with the elite but they’ll need more of it in the final two thirds of the season.
There could be some excusing the poor overall possession numbers when you factor in that that four of the five games we are using in this sample are road games for both seasons but the fact remains that Vancouver will need to improve going forward against the California teams if they don’t want to take their chances with a wild card spot.
At this point last season, with the Canucks playing great hockey up until the end of December, I thought they’d at least be a wild card team. With last season’s collapse still fresh in our minds, I think the Canucks will still manage to scrape into a wild card spot in the West, but even with their current position in the Pacific and games in hand, the Ducks, Sharks and Kings will probably be too much to hold off.