Behind the Numbers: Round 1 preview.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 17: Keith Ballard #4 of the Vancouver Canucks and Colin Fraser #24 of the Los Angeles Kings fight during the second period in NHL action on January 17, 2012 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

After an 82 game pre-season, the time is finally here. The Mission : 16 Wins - for the toughest trophy in sports. Let's get ready to rumble: The main event: 'Nucks vs.KIngs. Time to expose the enemy and look behind the numbers:

{As usual, stats from Behindthenet.ca, HockeyAnalysis.com and NHL.com}

Okay. Let's start our comparison with some basic stats:

5 on 5 play.
GF/60 GA/60 Sh% save%
Vancouver
2.6 2.1 8.6% .929
Los Angeles 2.0 1.9 6.4% .928

At first glance 5 on 5, Vancouver has the more efficient offense (with a higher shooting %), Los Angeles has the tighter defense (with lower shots against) and overall goaltending has been equal. There has been much credit given to goalie Jonathan Quick but it is L.A.'s tight defense deployed by coach Daryl Sutter, that is their real strength.

Offence edge: Vancouver

Defense edge : Los Angeles

Now, for some advanced hockey stats.

Possession F. (5 on 5 play, in close games)
Pos. F % Pos F. (home) Pos. F (away)
Vancouver
51.4 51.6 51.3
Los Angeles 53.6 55 52.1
Dif (+/-) -2.6 % -3.4% -.08%

Some bad news for Vancouver here. Surprisingly, L.A. has higher possession figures across the board. This is not your typical 8th seed. Vancouver has been incredibly unlucky to win the President's trophy back to back and had to play Chicago (who ranked 2 last year) and Los Angeles who ranked 4th this year.

Usually higher possession leads to more goals. (as was the case with Chicago 2011) This is not the case with Los Angeles. This is could be because they are taking a lot of low % shots and/or they are having a long run of bad luck. A 6.4 shooting % is one of the lowest in 5 years. However, low shooting percentages often regress and rise to a mean. Vancouver needs to hope that L.A.'s bad luck? doesn't turn 'til next year.

Possession edge : Los Angeles (perhaps not as great as the raw numbers)

Now let's look at special teams:

The Power Play
SF/60 (5on 4) GF/60 (5on4)
Efficiency%
Vancouver 56.1 6.9 19.8%
Los Angeles 45.1 5.1 17%

A clear advantage for Vancouver here. If Vancouver can regain their magic, this could be the difference in a tight series.

The Penalty Kill
SA/60 (4 on 5) GA/60 (4 on 5) Efficiency%
Vancouver 52.4 5 86%
Los Angeles 49.1 4.2 87%

A smaller edge goes to Los Angeles.

Special Teams Edge: Vancouver.

However, the Kings PK is strong so the Canucks must regain the form they had in the 1st half of the season.

Now Goaltending.:

Even Strength Save %
This season Career
Luongo .929 .929
Schneider .931 .926
Quick .933 .924

As I stated earlier, prepare for over-hype from the MMM (mainstream mass media) on every save from J. Quick. Of course, he has played well this year. However, he is not better than Vancouver's goalies and Quick doesn't deserve the Vezina trophy. (As an aside, In two years, 2003-04 and 2005-06, Coach Sutter also took an average defensive team and reduced their shots to 5th and 6th best in the league and GA 3rd best and 1st).

5 on 5 close play
SA /60
Vancouver 23rd
Los Angeles 4th

In fact, when the game is on the line, Vancouver asks far more of their goalies (more shots, and higher quality), if Los Angeles wins, it will more likely be because of L.A's defensive system and not because of Quick.

If Quick struggles, (less likely due to their defensive strength) then there is a drop off to back-up Jonathan Bernier Conversely, Vancouver has the benefit because they have two top goalies. I would start Cory Schnieder as the Kings have never faced him. And, I feel the edge goes to the goalie until the players get a real good look at him. However, this is very unlikely.

Either way, The Canucks propensity to give up a large amount of shots means Vancouver cannot afford average goaltending performance this playoffs. Therefore, coach Alain Vigneault must not hesitate to pull Roberto Luongo quickly if things go south. After the maximum 2 goals (not 3). and if the team is down at any time in the game to shake the team up. Or, if the Canucks fall down by one game (not two) then it is essential to put Cory Schneider in. The goal is to get 'a' goalie hot and on a roll. The Canucks if necessary get to roll this dice twice. Schneider is an asset that cannot sit on the bench this year unless the Canucks remains ahead throughout the series.This year's motto for the Canucks ought to be "whatever it takes".

The Canucks and Kings played 4 tightly contested games

Head to Head
5 on 5 stats:
SD% Pos. F Save % Shooting % GF GA
Vancouver 43% 47% .963 4.9% 4 4
Los Angeles 52%.931 53% .951 3.7% 4 4

4 games is very small sample size but L.A. maintained their possession edge that they had overall in the season. 8 total goals in 4 games during 5 on 5 could be seen as a return to the dead puck era. This is Coach Sutter shutdown hockey.

Speed:

Vancouver appears to be the much quicker team and can play at a higher tempo and pace.This style could cause problems for the KIngs.

Speed Edge: Vancovuer

If this series was taking place in January, it is would be a classic match-up. An up-tempo high powered explosive offense against a tight shutdown defense. However, Vancouver fans know that their team has tightened things up since the trade deadline, and the Kings have improved their offense since the acquisition of Jeff Carter. The Canucks appear to be willing to let the Kings dictate the style of play. They have stated they are comfortable in low scoring one goal games. However, is this the right strategy? I feel it is important to maximize your advantages. The Canucks edge is their offense and team speed. A higher event, higher scoring game favors the Canucks. To me, playing a really tight game plays into the KIngs' wheelhouse. I could be wrong?

Prediction: The stats say Vancouver in 7 tough games, Vancouver may need to win two games in Los Angeles due to L.A.'s strong road possession stats. I see overtime in at least 2 games. It's Vancouver's offense vs. L.A.'s Defense as the key match-up. Line matching will be especially important. What adjustments will Coach Vigneault make if Vancovuer needs more scoring? And, I see Cory Schneider playing in the series.

Do you agree, disagree? Time to tell us what you think?!

We will continue the preview in the next post.

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