Simon Wilson

Jan 092014
 

Vancouver Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings

With the Canucks just past the halfway point of the season it seems as good a time as any to try and predict where the team may finish at the end of the season in April. Despite a number of gut-wrenching losses in the last few weeks you should still feel pretty good about the Canucks chances to make the playoffs and I’ll breakdown where I think the team will realistically finish in the standings and whether they have much of a chance to pass teams in their division.

Introduction

The chart below shows team’s Fenwick percentages for all 5-on-5 situations as well as in close score situations which is used to help account for score effects. For the uninitiated, Fenwick is a tally of all shot attempts a team takes at 5-on-5 except for those that are blocked. Stated another way, it is shots that are either on-net or missed. Close score situations are games that are tied at any time or within a goal in the first and second period.

So, why should you care about Fenwick? It has been proven that there is a direct correlation between Fenwick and puck possession. It has also been shown that teams that possess the puck the most will win more often. The biggest thing to take away from this is that teams with the best Fenwick percentage over the entire season will finish near the top of the standings over 82 games.

Finally, I’ve also listed PDO. PDO is a measure of how lucky a team is and is simply a team’s shooting percentage plus save percentage at 5-on-5. For example, the Canucks are shooting at 7.5% and stopping 92.8% of their opponent’s shots for a PDO of 100.3. All you really need to know is that teams that are above 100 are considered to be lucky, either shooting or stopping pucks, at a rate that is probably unstainable. Teams that are under 100 are considered unlucky.

The Stats

*All stats taken from extraskater.com

Fenwick For % All 5v5 Fenwick Close PDO
Canucks 50.9 (13th) 52.4 (9) 100.7 (10)
Ducks 51.3 (10) 51.2 (13) 102.3 (2)
Sharks 53.8 (4) 54.1 (3) 99.7 (19)
Kings 55.7 (1) 56.9 (1) 100.9 (9)
Coyotes 50.1 (17) 49.5 (18) 101.2 (7)
Wild 49.8 (18) 49.6 (16) 99.8 (17)
Stars 51.1 (12) 52.5 (8) 100.4 (12)

 

Analysis

At first glance you’ll probably notice that the Pacific is good. Really good. Despite recently losing 5 games in a row, the Kings are legitimately the best team in the division and probably the best team in the conference even though the standings don’t show it. The Canucks are only two points behind them but you can probably go ahead and forget about passing them.

The Sharks are not far behind the Kings and with a five point lead on Vancouver and a game in hand its hard to see the Canucks reigning in the Sharks too especially with the season series between the two teams already completed.

That brings us to Anaheim who are the best team in the NHL points wise. If you are not sold on the Ducks being the best team in the division then you’re not alone. The Ducks are not among the elite in the NHL in puck possession and barely attempt more shots than their opponents. You’ll notice that their PDO is 102.3 which, as I mentioned before, implies that they’ve been extremely lucky. In score close situations, the Ducks are shooting at a ridiculous 10.8% clip. In case you’re wondering, Perry and Getzlaf are not the guys driving up shooting percentage. In the score close situations with Kyle Palmieri, Dustin Penner, and Nick Bonino on the ice, the Ducks are shooting at 15.5%, 13.2% and 12.4% respectively.

The Canucks are 14 points behind the league leaders so there probably isn’t much hope that the Canucks can pass them, but the good news is, the Ducks are looking like a very possible matchup in the playoffs and once the slate is wiped clean I would feel pretty good about Vancouver’s chances in a seven game series. Much better than I would feel then against Los Angeles or San Jose.

As for the Canucks themselves, there was a time when they were not too far off the Kings and Sharks in terms of possession stats but they have slid down into the middle of the pack over the last month or so. You can probably chalk some of that up to injures to guys like Alex Burrows and Alex Edler but every team has issues so I’m not sure if that is much of an excuse. Even during their win steak, the Canucks were being carried due to their goaltending more than their strong play as a team. I’d argue that the team actually played better during their November losing streak then their December winning streak.

As for the rest of the West, I find it hard to see a scenario where two of Phoenix, Minnesota, and Dallas finish ahead of Vancouver for the two Wild Card spots. Of the three teams below the Canucks, Dallas is the most underachieving team mostly due to their goalies being well below average

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the Canucks appear to be a team in a solid playoff position but its hard to see them earning anything more than a Wild Card spot. Even with 37 games to go I think the Canucks are exactly where they’ll end up at the end of the season. The good news is there is plenty of time for Vancouver to get some of their best players back and find a way to hold on to two goal leads with 1:11 left in the game. Plus, they’re lined up to play either the Ducks, a team I think they can beat, or the Chicago Blackhawks, which is always fun.

Dec 112013
 

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: faceoff.com

As I am sure everyone is aware of by now, Roberto Luongo was named the NHL’s third star of the week on Monday. For the most part, Luongo has met or exceeded every reasonable prediction people had of him in the off-season. It is fairly well known that goalies that enter their mid-30s steadily decline in save percentage.  Luongo’s .918 is just a fraction off his .919 career average

That being said, during a season where save percentage is at its all-time highest, despite the league making goalie equipment smaller, Luongo has been an average at best starter.

At 5-on-5 play, Luongo’s save percentage is .923 and good enough for 16th best in the NHL among goalies who have played 50 percent of their teams games. Advanced stats for goalies lags behind the metrics for skaters but 5-on-5 play is the fairest way to evaluate goaltenders against each other as special teams stats are more heavily influenced by teammates play. Even if you account for the Canucks’ league best penalty kill, Luongo only gets bumped up to 12th with a traditional .918 save percentage.

To further demonstrate the issue, goalies such as Steve Mason, Jaroslav Halak, and Ondrej Pavelec have all posted a better save percentage at even strength.  You’d probably be pretty disappointed to have any of those guys are your team’s starter.

The good news for the Canucks is that teams are moving away from heavily depending on star goaltenders to win them the cup. There have been plenty of teams that have had average goaltending and made the playoffs in the recent past, however, teams like Minnesota, Colorado and Toronto have demonstrated that relying on goaltending to steal games can still get you a few extra wins that the Canucks could really use right now to get back into the Pacific Division race.

Now, if you follow the Canucks on a daily basis you’d probably notice that not much is being made about Luongo’s average stats. I believe that there are a couple reasons for this.  One being what I already mentioned, that Luongo has been playing up to the standards set for him early on this season. More likely though, people have shifted their criticism from Luongo’s play to the lack of scoring depth when the team loses low scoring games. Without Cory Schnieder on the team, the fans and media don’t have the default reaction we’ve been accustomed to – calling for the backup. Luongo has done his best to avoid the soft goals as well and continued consistency will be important going forward as well.

What we’re seeing from Luongo is probably about what we can expect for the rest of the season and that’s not necessarily bad thing considering the potential decline the Canucks could have been dealing with.

Nov 142013
 

David Booth and Zack Kassian, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: CTV.ca

John Tortorella has lived and died by his top two lines this season with the Sedins and Ryan Kesler easily on pace to destroy their career averages in ice-time.  While this is perfectly fine for now, I can’t see the Canucks’ top six forwards being able to stay at the top of their game at the tail end of the season if Tortorella is going to continue to ride them so hard, especially when you factor in that Daniel, Henrik and Kesler are certain to be traveling to Russia to compete in the Olympics.

I decided to take a look at just how reliable the third line has been this season and see if Tortorella is riding his top guys too hard, or if he really doesn’t have a competent third line to work with to take some pressure off the top-six.

Part of the problem with this is that the Canucks have had so many injuries that the third line hasn’t been very constant with players moving around and players like Dale Weise and Tom Sestito playing up when they obviously aren’t top-nine forwards.  For the sake of this argument I made the assumption that the Sedins, Kesler, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins are all entrenched on the top two lines and that David Booth, Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, Jannik Hansen, Jordan Schroeder and Zack Kassian are all guys who are likely to see time on the third line either now or in the future

One final prelude is what I actually think the Canucks’ third line should be capable of.  It is not realistic to expect these guys to be scoring a goal a night, but what they should be able to do is eat up some minutes while keeping the puck out of their own net and hopefully driving play with a Corsi percentage of 50%. I’m sure Tortorella would appreciate a low event third line as long as more time is spent in the opponent’s end than their own, you know if he paid attention to advanced stats.

Of the guys I mentioned above, Booth, Santorelli, and Hansen are players who are great at driving possession.  At 5-on-5, the Canucks have controlled 57.4% of shot attempts with Hansen on the ice, 53.3% with Booth on the ice, and 53.5% with Santorelli on the ice. Santorelli has benefitted the most from injuries and playing with Higgins but still, he appears to be a reliable player at this point.  As we head further down the depth chart the results are less encouraging with Kassian at 48.1%, and Richardson at 42.2%, even with his 5 goals. To put that in perspective, Richardson’s Corsi is in Weise and Sestito territory.

To take it a bit further, I took a look at how each player has played when teamed up with Kassian over the last 3 seasons (since he was traded to Vancouver) to see how they performed as a unit to try to minimize the effect of playing with other players.  Why Kassian as the constant? I figured he isn’t likely to move up or down the lineup much this season as Tortorella has used him almost exclusively on the third line. There isn’t much “with you” data for some players but I included them anyway.

Zack Kassian’s With You Stats (2011-2014)
Player Time Goals CF% GF/20 GA/20

David Booth

144:13 3 55.0 0.416 0.416

Brad Richardson

88:32 4 44.9 1.129 0.678

Mike Santorelli

48:45 0 53.0 0 0

Jannik Hansen

2:46 0 40.0 0 0

Jordan Schroeder

56:27 0 44.3 0 0.711

 

When teamed up with Kassian guys are more than less playing at the same level as they are with other players based on their Corsi percentage.  As a unit they’ve given up too many goals but in such a small sample size it’s probably not a huge concern. In an unrelated note, one thing that did surprise me was how little Hansen and Kassian have played together at 5-on-5 since “the trade”.  You’d think those two would have played more than three minutes together.

So, what does all this really mean? I think that the Canucks have a third line that is capable of eating up minutes without being a liability when you have Booth and Kassian on the ice. One of the reasons I didn’t agree with the “conditioning” assignment or scratching of Booth was that the team desperately needs him to play to take pressure off the top-six.  Yes, the Canucks would prefer he score goals at the price they’re paying him, but the team hasn’t been scored on with him on the ice this year which is pretty valuable too.  As more players return from injury, I’d feel pretty comfortable with a Booth-Santrorelli-Kassian line, and Richardson moving back down to the fourth line while being a valuable penalty killer. My hope is that Tortorella will too and allow the Sedins and Kesler to go back to around 18-21 minutes a game.

Nov 012013
 

Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks scores against the St. Louis Blues.

Photo credit: CBC.ca

With Ryan Kesler on pace for 44 goals, is it safe to assume that he’s back into the form that made him one of the league’s elite players and the 2011 Selke Trophy winner?  Or has Kesler simply been opportunistic while playing with the Sedins and the beneficiary of lucky bounces like the gimmie in Philadelphia? For my first article on Canucks Hockey Blog I take a look at the underlying numbers to find out if ‘Kes’ is indeed back into Selke form.

If you’re not familiar with advanced stats, otherwise known as #fancystats, most people put a fairly large emphasis on a player’s Corsi rating and a team’s Fenwick rating.  Both stats attempt to measure which players and teams are best at possessing the puck.  These stats are much more reliable than stats such as goals, which have a large luck component.  Over the course of the season you’ll see teams that have the best possession ratings end up near the top of the standings while those that have poor ratings finish near the bottom.

Corsi is generally reserved for evaluating players while Fenwick is used for teams.  When a shot is directed towards the opponent’s net, whether missed, on-net or blocked, a player will get a plus-1 in Corsi and when the opponent directs one towards a player’s net they will receive a minus-1.  Depending on what site you visit, Corsi can be displayed per 60 minutes of ice-time or as a percentage.  Fenwick has the same definition except it excludes blocked shots.  Pretty simple stuff, and even if you don’t follow those stats regularly, you probably understand that more shots towards the opponent’s net and less towards your own is a good thing.

So, back on the topic of Kesler, we can compare the Corsi ratings of his two seasons to help determine if he has been as dominant this season as he was back in 2010-11.  With only 15 games played so far this season, there is still noise in the data but it should still suit our purpose well enough.

In 2010-11, Kesler finished the season with a Corsi rating of 17.73 meaning for every 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play with Kesler on the ice, the Canucks directed almost 18 more shots towards the net then their opponents.  That, by the way, was good enough for third best in the league among players who played at least 60 games.  So far in 2013-14, Kesler only has a Corsi rating of 2.62.

Those stats alone would suggest that Kesler isn’t driving or dominating shifts as much as he did during his award-winning season even though he has been filling the net lately.  Based on those numbers, it is probably safe to assume that the goals are going to slow down soon, especially if he ends up being replaced on the top line by Alex Burrows as Kesler has no doubt gotten a boost in both Corsi and goals by playing with the Sedins – two of the best possession players in hockey.

That said, part of the gap in Kesler’s ability to drive play can be attributed to the fact that he has played against much tougher opponents then 2010-11.  Without getting into how to interpret Quality of Competition statistics in this article, Kesler has gone up against the other team’s best players  more often than any other Canucks forward and only Alex Edler has played against tougher competition overall.  That is a big difference from 2010-11 when the toughest defensive assignments were generally given to Manny Malholtra and occasionally Max Lapierre.

Basically, a healthy Kesler is back to being a great player, significantly better than at any time in the last two seasons, but not quite as great as the guy who helped the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

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