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Behind the Numbers: Why the Canucks need the All-American Line

Smiles. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Smiles. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Ryan Kesler has only 4 goals in 27 games. 1 point in 11 games. 41 games in a row with no multi-point games. What's wrong with Kes? Meanwhile, Coach Vigneault inexplicably remains excited about his 'third line'. Advanced Hockey Stats (ADS) has the answers, read on after the jump.

Before the Tuesday's game against Anaheim, Coach Alain Vigneault (on the team 1040) spoke glowingly about how strong the Canucks third line of Samuel Pahlsson, Jannik Hansen, and Chris Higgins have been. He stated, "that they have been the team's best line and have had many offensive scoring chances as well."

At the same time, 4 million dollar a year, and proven goal score David Booth and stud star center Ryan Kesler are are in the midst of horrific goal scoring slumps,and for the most part, saddled with the struggling and anchor-like Mason Raymond. Booth has even been benched and admitted that has completely lost his confidence. In addition, even with the coach's proud dominant third line the underlying numbers show the Canucks have regressed since the trade deadline.

5 on 5 close stats:

GF GA GD% Shots d% Pos. F
Before Trade Deadline 2.13 1.7 55.4% 50.3% 51.7%
After Trad Deadline 1.82 1.69 51.8% 48.3% 50.7%
Diff. (+/-) -.31 -.01 -3.6% -2% -1%

Coach Vigneault also stated that he has been searching aimlessly for that elusive elixir, "chemistry", for Kesler and Booth yet right before his nose his star center seems to have the answer.

Kesler on playing with Higgins and All American Line:

"He's one of the most underrated players in the game...he plays with a lot of energy and has a great skill-set and is easy to play with. I love playing with the guy and I can't say enough about him. My linemates were hitting me in stride and I was finding those openings. My release felt good and came off my stick well."

It seems clear that Kes knows how to get himself going. The advance stats agree:

Kesler 5 on 5 *zone adj.(Gf/20) (Ga/20)
with Higgins 22 12
without Higgins 13 10
last year 19* 15*

* {adjusted to equalize time played}

{stats from}

To repeat:

Kesler has actually produced at a better rate with Chris Higgins this year, then he did in his dominant season last year.

Let's look at the underlying Possession numbers to see if the Goal totals are on solid foundation

5 on5 Pos. Corsi (*zone adjusted).
Kesler with without
Higgins 59% 53% -+6%
Booth 61% 51% +10%
Raymond 53% 58% - 5%
this year (overall) --- ---- 56%
Last year (overall) ----- ---- 57%
Ehrhoff (last year) 62% 54% -+8%

To be clear, a 60% Possession number is dominant.The reason why Kesler is struggling is because the Canucks simply don't have the puck enough when he is on the ice. Higgins is a great puck retriever. And, last year the Canucks generated a high puck possession with their defense as we can again see the significant value and loss of Christian Ehrhoff. (Check here for more numbers) Daniel Hank and Burrows also continue to have a very strong Pos. number:

H. Sedin GF GA Pos C. (with) (without)
Daniel Sedin 43 28 58% 48%
Burrows 36 21 57% 53%

* As an aside, no we should not split up the twins!

The Canucks with these top two lines would force a match up nightmare. Still, Coach Vigneault would rather generate scoring chances on his third line with S Pahlsson (a career 10 Goal scorer) and Jannik Hansen (a 15 goal scorer) By doing so, the Canucks have chosen to sacrifice scoring chances with players who are better finishers (Booth 25 Goal scorer) and Kesler a (27 goal scorer).

The coach's decision not to play the All -American Line together, and the general shutdown attitude has neutered our offense, and significantly reduces the chance to generate scoring chances and over time score goals!

Not to mention the coach has missed an excellent opportunity to pull two key members of his top 6 forwards (Kesler and Booth) out of slumps,before the playoffs, by playing them with Higgins whom they clearly have chemistry!

The coaches argument is that he needs a third shutdown line and this makes us a 'better' defensive team. But why? Kesler is a Selke winner! He shut down Jonathan Toews, a Conn Smythe winner, in the Chicago series almost single-handedly last year. Higgins is obviously good defensively - as is Burrows on the first line. Also, Detroit has proven that the best defense is to dominate puck possession. We could easily use Maxim Lapierre with Samuel Pahlsson and Hansen as a third line. Last year in the playoffs our third line of Hansen/Torres/Lapierre were only on the ice for 3 even strength goals in 25 games!

This year the top two lines of Sedins with Burrows, and the All-American Line, are a combined + 25 goals! At this rate, our third line could play to a minus 5 or so with the fourth line even a minus 5 . This leaves us well ahead in the (+/-) not counting a potential special teams advantage if we regain our touch.

The coach's second reason for having a shutdown third line is to free up the Kesler line to play against inferior opposition. Newsflash to coach V - your plan is not working!

Having two dominant lines provides a match up nightmare for every team. For example teams that have one dominant shutdown D pair has to choose which line to focus on . Similarly, the team has to choose which line to play a defensive line against. An added bonus is if Kesler and Booth regain confidence this could improve their play on the Power Play.

And, there also an obvious simple solution to the current power play woes: just keep the two top lines together and play them as a 1 and 1a on the power play. This puts even more stress on PK unit having to defend to powerful lines. There is a very strong chance the All -American line's obvious statical dominance and 'chemistry' would easily extend to the powerplay. Yet somehow with the powerplay in a complete tailspin:

The All-American Line has only been on the Power Play together for .06% of the time this year

{according to Left Wing Lock}.

Of course, having an option to use a 'shutdown line occasionally is a benefit, for example the coach could still, in the last minutes in a tight game, put Higgins back on the third line. But, as an overall strategy it is very suspect.

This decision is magnified by the desperate need for the Canucks to score more goals this year. Coach Vigneault is an good 'defensive' coach, however, he has proven thus far not to demonstrate offensive instincts. And, for the most part his teams, even with sufficient offensive talent, have floundered in the scoring department in the playoffs:

2006-2011 Goals For (ave.)
Canucks 2.55
Playoff a(ave.) 2.76
Cup winner (ave.) 3.18

Alain Vigneault proclaimed at the trade deadline that they were going to shutdown their opponents, lets check again how his decision has turned out.

5 on 5 Close stats
GF GA GD% Shots d% Pos. F
Before Trade Deadline 2.13 1.7 55.4% 50.3% 51.7%
After Trad Deadline 1.82 1.69 51.8% 48.3% 50.7%
Diff. (+/-) -.31 -.01 -3.6% -2% -1%

In every stat the numbers are down. Yes! Daniel has been hurt for part of the time , however, injuries do happen and they will in the playoffs.

This year Coach Vigneault has an easy answer before him, yet he refuses to use it. This is the kind of strange decision; if things go sour, that could/should lead to the coach losing his job!

I hope the decision doesn't cost the team, buy the numbers clearly say otherwise.