Despite the loss last night, the Canucks actually played pretty well against the Sharks. They narrowly outshot them and had a huge advantage in Corsi and Fenwick, which we know are a gauge for possession and correlate well with scoring chances. In fact, despite only outshooting San Jose 30-28, at even strength the Canucks had 20 more shots directed at the net (Corsi) and had a 13-shot advantage when you remove blocked attempts (Fenwick). The Canucks dominated possession and perhaps got a bit unlucky, running into a hot goalie and failing to draw penalties.
Perhaps the most disappointing takeaway from the game, though, was the play of the Sedins. Normally the Sedins do a great job driving possession, with Corsi scores among the league leaders. Last night, however, they were only a slight positive, performing much worse than some of their teammates.
While in a nutshell this isn’t a big deal for one game, the fact that the Canucks were at home and thus had the last line change makes it more troublesome. If the Sedins aren’t going to be effective with match-ups dictated by Alain Vigneault, things could be bleak when the series returns to San Jose.
In the regular season, the Sedins saw very favorable deployment in terms of shifts, with nearly two-thirds of their shifts starting in the offensive zone. Last night was no different as they saw nine offensive zone starts to four (five for Henrik) defensive zone starts. So nothing changed in that regard.
In terms of competition, the Sedins played against roughly neutral quality in the season. Without doing the tedious work of going through 48 games to separate home and away, I’d assume this is due to highly favorable match-ups at home when the team has the last change, and opposition on the road putting out better lines to stop them, balancing it out. Last night, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun who drew the assignment on the twins most often, with Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Raffi Torres the most common forward line.
This seems odd to me, because Marleau and Couture as a pairing were deployed against the opposition’s best players a lot, with high Corsi Rel QoC scores. The same goes for Vlasic. Either Todd McLellan was extremely active with early-shift substitutions to get his stoppers out against the Sedins, or Vigneault didn’t do a particularly strong job leveraging the last change. Of course, you can’t just opt NOT to put the Sedins out all the time if McLellan rolls out his highly talented top line. In fact, give McLellan credit for being so devoted to that match-up, sacrificing some of the offensive fire power of that line to have them limit the Sedins (Marleau and Couture had 10 defensive zone starts to just four offensive zone starts, while for the year they were roughly even).
If McLellan continues this pattern, especially in games three and four in San Jose, the Canucks are going to have to get contributions from other lines and/or draw more penalties to allow some power play time to get their top unit going.
The line best suited to step up is the Ryan Kesler line, with Keslord flanked by Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian for most of the night last night. That trio had the strongest Corsi of any unit on the team and could see an uptick from their 12 minutes or so of even strength time. These possession numbers are made even more impressive by the fact that Kesler and Higgins got just two offensive zone starts and thus needed to drive possession from the Vancouver end or neutral territory into San Jose’s zone.
This is an area where Kesler has excelled this year, starting 47% of his shifts in the attacking zone but finishing there 54% of the time. Kassian and Higgins were also positives in this area, giving Vigneault a talented trio to help drive possession and get those key offensive zone faceoffs for the top line. In the event he mixes the lines for game two, Derek Roy is another Canuck who excels in this area, and a lot of this second line analysis could pertain to him to.
It’s only fair to note that the second line didn’t face quite the level of opposition the top line did, spreading out its minutes across several match-ups. However, they did see a lot of Joe Thornton (seven even strength minutes) and held him to negative Corsi and Fenwick scores.
On the back end, it wasn’t really a surprise that Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa had a strong game, as they’ve been strong Corsi players for most of the year, usually facing decent competition. Last night they were extreme possession drivers – they had strong Corsi/Fenwick numbers despite playing alongside the Sedins for most of their minutes, indicating excellent performance when they weren’t with the twins. Jason Garrison also had a really strong game with a Corsi of 12 despite seven defensive zone starts to five in the offensive zone (Edler and Bieksa, for reference, started in the O-Zone about 75% of the time).
A quick note, too, that the pairing of Andrew Alberts and Frankie Corrado struggled a bit in their minutes despite getting pretty favorable deployment in terms of zone and competition. They were the only players on the team with a negative Corsi on the night.
So there is some breakdown of the game based on match-ups and zone starts, which I’ll be providing after each game in the playoffs. My suggestion for game two would be that Vigneault should get more aggressive in avoiding the Couture-line/Sedin-line match-up, even if it means a few less offensive zone starts for the top unit. The Kesler line has shown an ability to drive and maintain possession for the Canucks, and sending them over the boards against the Couture line a bit more often should allow the Sedins more favorable ice time.
Of course, the team also needs to draw more than two penalties – even though the Canucks’ power play wasn’t excellent during the season, they normally did a league average job at creating man advantages (about 3.5 per game). Two isn't going to cut it all that often.