Top Lines Reverse Roles in Game Two Loss

Rich Lam

Looking at Corsi/Fenwick, zone starts and match-ups from Game 1.

Sorry for the late post, but I was a little #drunj on Friday and wanted to give the game a re-watch before writing it up. Obviously you already know the Canucks blew a late one, coughing up a last minute goal and then falling in overtime.

To the eye test, they seemed to outplay the Sharks. Maybe it was the IPA, but I thought the Canucks deserved to head to San Jose with a split rather than in a really intimidating 2-0 hole. And the possession stats seem to back that up – not only did Vancouver out-hit the Sharks (45-27), dominating the physical side of the game, but they also had a huge advantage in terms of Corsi. The Canucks fired 22 more shots than the Sharks, including missed nets and blocked attempts. If you filter out blocks, which the Sharks have shown through two games to be pretty good at, the Canucks still had six more attempts (Fenwick).

For the second straight game, Vancouver put more pucks in the direction of the San Jose net but didn’t get the results they were hoping for. By the count of Thomas Drance of Canucks Army, the Sharks once again had more scoring chances than the Canucks though, matching them through three periods and then out-chancing them heavily in overtime. Twice now, the Canucks have played better by possession indicators but been out-chanced, perhaps speaking to the quality of shots the Canucks are settling for and/or defensive zone breakdowns giving the Sharks better opportunities.

Regardless of the how, the Canucks find themselves in an unenviable position heading south tonight.

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One of the big stories to watch was Derek Roy bumping to the second line with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins. Roy only ended up playing about seven minutes with that unit, with Jannik Hansen also logging seven minutes. Contrary to their strong game one performance, Kessler and Higgins posted big negative possession numbers – perhaps a lack of chemistry with their new linemates, or perhaps just a bad game. Unusually, the line had relatively even deployment across zones, and like in game one didn’t face any particular line for the majority of their time, taking away a few sometimes-caveats for poor line performance. Yes, I know Kesler scored a pair and hit everything in sight, but it wasn’t a strong game overall – I'm glad I watched it twice because it was hard to believe looking at the stats after the first viewing. Despite the poor play of Zack Kassian of late, it might be worthwhile to set the lines back to their game one incarnation, when the second and third units were both better.

The top line, which struggled in the opener, played much better this time around. The Sedins had huge positives for possession numbers two days after being the team’s worst line, thanks in part to eight offensive zone starts to three defensive zone starts, which is the norm for them. Alain Vigneault didn’t do any better a job getting the Sedins out there away from Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the Logan Couture line, but for whatever reason the Sedins were just much more ready to play. Drance also had the Sedins as strong positives in terms of scoring chances at even strength as well.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came on the back end, where Frank Corrado and Andrew Alberts rebounded from a poor opener to post strong possession and scoring chance numbers in their 12 minutes of action. Of course, this pair is somewhat protected with match-ups, but if they can provide a strong third pairing in San Jose, it takes away some of the last-change power from Todd McLellan.

Speaking of McLellan, I’d expect to see the Couture line paired with Vlasic against the Sedins even more than they were through the first two games, which was north of half the time. With the last change, McLellan will probably sacrifice the offensive power of Couture and Patrick Marleau to try and get the Sedin line back to their poor game one performance. That could provide an opportunity for other units to step up (although ideally, the top line plays like game two and the second line like game one…obviously).

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Anyway this was a bit abbreviated and rushed here on Sunday morning, so forgive me if I missed any key points from the advanced stats of game two. A couple things are clear heading into game three though – Vigneault has his work cut out for him in the match-ups game, the Canucks need to focus on preventing quality shots in and around the net, and they have to find a way to get some more power play time (just five opportunities through two games, about two less than what they’d normally expect over two games).

Enjoy game three folks. I’ll check back in tomorrow morning.

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