When a hockey writer discusses a player's performance, I generally like to check their shooting percentages and their PDO, just because I don't trust the majority of newspapermen and women to navigate around Behind The Net or Time On Ice to find a few numbers to support their claims.
Like Ben Kuzma today, in a link already pimped out by our dear friend Wyatt, I do think that Christopher Higgins is playing fantastic hockey. I also think that Kevin Bieksa and Cody Hodgson are as well, but they've been slightly hindered by percentages and variance so it doesn't "show" as much as it does in Higgins, and, oh yes, Maxim Lapierre.
Chris Higgins was a real good deadline addition. He had a tremendous scoring chance differential in Florida before the Canucks traded for him and good adjusted Corsi and Fenwick numbers. In a way, he was a lot like David Booth, in that Mike Gillis looked past the visuals, saw the type of player Higgins was, and bought low. Higgins responded in turn and played very well in the playoffs and it's continued into this season. With a 45.8% offensive zone start ratio, Higgins has a +27.47 Corsi over 60 minutes.
That's so good, that it even makes his PDO of 973 pretty well un-noticeable. It's his shooting that's picked up. A career 10.5% shooter, Higgins is 19.2% to start the season. Maxim Lapierre, whom Kuzma also discussed is going through a similar up-swing this year, his 17.6% shooting well above his career average of 7.8%. Hence the noon number: 18.6% is the combined shooting percentage of both Higgins and Lapierre so far.
As for Maxim Lapierre's underlyings and adjustibles, he's having a good, if unspectacular, year as well. His Corsi per 60 is just +0.59 but his offensive zone start rate is 23.6% and he's taken a lot of pressure off of Manny Malhotra, who is having a rough start, compared to the dominance he displayed last campaign. He gives Alain Vigneault some flexibility in the defensive zone and while he doesn't see the tough competition like Manny does, he's nevertheless been effective and has been carrying that fourth line (well, Dale Weise is pretty good as well. I've made my thoughts on Aaron Volpatti known). However the fourth line hasn't been exceptionally good, or more visible as a fourth line than any generic one. They're plus players against easy comp, which I suppose is better than the alternative, but it isn't exactly a lights-out beginning.
It may not seem that way but Lapierre and Higgins have had a renaissance since being acquired at the trade deadline last February. The Canucks were the right team at the right time in their checkered careers and they were rewarded with two-year contract extensions in the summer. The versatile Higgins has played both wings and Lapierre has looked more like a third-line centre, not a fourth-line fixture.
See this is the sort of thing that bugs me. When a player is a little out of his element, media look for pseudo reasons why, when it may just be percentages (see: Bieksa, Kevin, mainstream analysis of) and it happens the same in reverse. It's cliché among the statistical community, but Chris Higgins was every bit the hockey player he is now he was prior to last year's trading deadline, and the visual difference is variance. No renaissance required. For Lapierre, you could make a case for him, but he's been a good fourth line centre, and I'm not sure if you could call him third-line quality because he doesn't face tough comp or have a ridiculously high Corsi number to account for it. He's serviceable, and that's good, considering the trouble that the Canucks have had in finding a good fourth line centre.
Rather, his 1044 PDO is making him look a little bit better. Take away those two goals from behind the net, and is this column really written? The best thing I can say about Lapierre is that he allows Vigneault some versatility. Say what you will about his forechecking, but goalies have stopped 93.3% of the shots when Lapierre's on the ice, which is elevated considering Luongo's early struggles. That makes Lapierre look better on defense so we overlook his maybe miscues. If he sees the same percentage (which he can't control) as Manny Malhotra, is this column really written? Maybe about Higgins, but I'm not finding a lot of similarity here. They weren't involved in the same trade coming over.