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Tuesday's Numbers: Walking on eggshells

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The hockey sphere has been pre-occupied somewhat over the last few weeks. I believe those of us who follow the Vancouver Canucks have had to deal with Christmas, the World Juniors, fall-out from the World Juniors, a seven-game series against the Boston Bruins and I think only now people are starting to realize how badly the team has played lately.

There are the usual storylines to fall back on, finally. Day-to-day nuance became harder to ignore where there weren't any phony controversies to pop up and be discussed by one or two loudmouths, ergo ensuring that my Twitter feed would blow up with 500 consecutive tweets about how they don't care about the day's story.

I joked around yesterday that Alain Vigneault and Ryan Kesler conspired to create the day's talking points and thus taking pressure off the fact that the Canucks have been, as alluded to above, playing some bad hockey collectively as a group. Everybody will have a different take on the he-said-he-said, ignore Cody Hodgson's recent game, ignore Alexander Edler's recent game, and ensure that the coaching staff is able to make the right adjustments on the team's struggling players.

When I said "playing bad" I mean "Minnesota Wild-esque". The Canucks came out of the gate hot, skating very well but not getting the job done on special teams and getting some poor luck at even strength. It led to a win total that wasn't indicative of their play. The wins have picked up and they were going hand-in-hand with the even strength play for a while, until the Canucks came back from their mid-December road trip, and, uh, for some reason, stopped playing well.

When I say "playing well" I mean literally playing well. The best advanced stat going with the most obvious practical application is "score-tied Corsi percentage", but readers of this blog probably know that already. It's an amazing predictor of future success and can spot where teams will finish off in the standings after 20 games.

If you've been following this section of the blog, you'll know that I frequently made fun of the Wild for having a pretty lousy team, even when they were winning. The dream of a possible Northwest Division Championship for our frozen friends in St. Paul came to a crashing halt last month when the team all of a sudden stopped winning. Both statgeek and anti-statgeek alike claimed victory from the spoils of war, with the statgeek crowd yelling out "SEE! I TOTALLY TOLD YOU GUYS!" while the anti-statgeek crowd also emerged from the rubble saying "Ah! But, you see, they also had a lot of injuries!"

You know where I stand. The Wild's success was completely hollow. Where am I going with this? Well...

Corsi % PDO Wins
Wild First 14 43.0% 106.0% 8
Canucks Last 14 46.0% 107.0% 9

Basically, the Canucks are walking on eggshells right now, especially compared to the first three quarters of their season:

Corsi % PDO Winning%
First 34 Games 57.5% 100.1% 55.9%
Last 14 Games 46.0% 107.0% 64.3%

Remember, PDO is the simple addition of shooting percentage and save percentage and an accurate forecaster of luck. A PDO that is too high is bound to drop, a PDO that is too low is bound to rise. A 107 PDO isn't sustainable, but that's what's been allowing the Canucks to win recently.

I'm pulling the data via via here and here. If you spend the time to allow those pages to load for you, you may be able to notice a discrepancy in a few players' individual score-tied Corsi numbers. For instance, Cody Hodgson, after being an excellent two-way player at the start of the season (58%!) has completely ignored the defensive aspects of the game and has been a team low (31.9%) among regulars over the last 14. Alexander Edler, who had protected shifts and a 58.7% rate in the first chunk of the season, has dipped to below average and sits at 43.7%.

The Sedins, Burrows, too. Everybody seems to have given up at even strength now that the powerplay has been clicking. The Canucks have a higher winning percentage in the last 14 games than they have overall, but that's just an anomaly; they won't be able to keep this up unless play improves. The team, previously hovering between 4th and 5th in overall tied-possession rankings, have now dropped to 8th, and, uh, if you're a Canucks fan, you don't like that one bit.

Lastly, here is how the Canucks have fared in those 14 games. Remember, an "event" is classified as a shot, missed shot, blocked shot or goal. I've distinguished for and against in the chart:

Game # Opponent Corsi % Events For Against
20486 vs. MIN 46.7% 30 14 16
20498 vs. DET 64.3% 14 9 5
20517 vs. CGY 42.3% 71 30 41
20526 vs. EDM 100.0% 1 1 0
20541 @ S.J 50.0% 46 23 23
20550 @ ANA 66.7% 3 2 1
20567 @ L.A 53.1% 32 17 15
20572 vs. S.J 44.3% 61 27 34
20582 vs. MIN 53.3% 15 8 7
20598 @ BOS 70.0% 20 14 6
20614 @ FLA 38.5% 13 5 8
20623 @ T.B 60.0% 10 6 4
20636 @ STL 31.7% 60 19 41
20663 vs. ANA 35.0% 20 7 13

They came home and began a stretch of remarkably inconsistent play. Somewhere in there, they found the time to impressively beat up on Boston.

The sky is falling. Well, not really. We know the team has the ability to play better, but they really have to start doing it sometime.