Two wins. That’s all it took to diminish the panic that Canucks fans were feeling following a season high five-game losing streak.
Never mind that those wins were over Calgary (a team that had lost seven straight heading) and Arizona (a game gift wrapped by Mike Smith). But hey, the Canucks don’t need to apologize for whom they beat or how they beat them. Winning cures all – as it should, I guess – and fans won’t fret until the next loss occurs.
I’m wondering though, if the fans of this club have changed their expectations for this season. Or are expectations a constantly moving target? I know, I know, this is not a new phenomenon for sports fans but let’s try to shed a little perspective on this team and where they stand 33 games into the 2014-15 season.
Heading into this campaign my understanding was that Canucks fans (sorry for generalizing here) felt a playoff spot would be a big accomplishment for the organization. That was the goal. But if the team couldn’t make that happen then at the very least it better play some entertaining hockey. Fans just wanted anything positive to forget about the tire fire that was the second half of last season.
Then the first 25 games happened. The Canucks were challenging for top spot in the division and suddenly fans were like "Hey! This team is better that we thought. This team can hang with the big dogs!"
Perhaps this team is better than most felt it would be. But a playoff spot should still be the goal. It will be a grind for the Canucks to make the post-season. But considering this organization turned over a third of the roster under a refurbished front office that includes a new president, general manager, and head coach, the fact that it is in the position it is now is a win for the fans.
That said, there is always reason for panic and for positivity. So with the help of Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) from thescore.com let’s delve into some fancy digits as they pertain to the Canucks.
Let’s start in the panic pool.
Drance: In Vancouver’s nine December games so far this month the club has sported a 48.3 per cent score adjusted Corsi For team – the 20th best mark in the league. (source: puckon.net)
So far this season Vancouver’s ability to control the flow of games at even-strength has been middling, an indicator that – though this may well be a playoff team – they’re probably not a real Stanley Cup threat.
Murphy: Despite a hot start the Canucks are not on the same level as the big boys when it comes to possessing the puck. The fact that things have been trending downward lately is not a great sign, but I don’t believe that’s an indicator that the Canucks are about to go all January 2014 on us.
Drance: Ryan Miller’s five-on-five save percentage so far this season is at .908, a brutal mark. Among regular NHL starters only four goaltenders have produced a worse mark: Semyon Varlamov, Ben Scrivens, Mike Smith and Darcy Kuemper. None of those goaltenders are playing for a team occupying a playoff spot.
Murphy: Heading into Saturday’s action only four goalies in the NHL had more wins than Ryan Miller’s 18. So, there’s that. Still, he’s going to have to be a lot more consistent on a game-to-game basis or the Canucks will have some difficulty winning games. Unless of course they plan on giving backup Eddie Lack more starts.
Now it’s time to turn that frown upside down.
Goals, Goals, Goals
Drance: The Canucks are second in the Western Conference in goals per game, behind only the high-octane Chicago Blackhawks. The club’s 2.94 goals per game mark is excellent, and the underlying metrics would suggest that it’s sustainable. While the club has benefited somewhat from the bounces on the power-play, at even-strength the Canucks are actually converting on a below average rate of shots and their 7.42 per cent on-ice shooting at even-strength would indicate that they haven’t been outrageously fortunate in the offensive end of the rink.
Murphy: Heading into this season I think the number one question surrounding this club was, "Where are the goals going to come from?" A legit question considering how tough it was for the Canucks to generate any offence last season. The fact that this team is managing close to three goals per game while shooting less that 8 per cent is a hugely positive sign.
Killing it on the PK
Drance: Vancouver is probably the NHL’s best penalty-killing club, despite the fact they don’t have the league’s best penalty killing percentage. So far the Canucks are the NHL’s single best shot suppression club when short-handed, as opposing power-play units are managing to generate just a hair over 36 shots per 60 minutes of five-on-four time on ice, a paltry number, and the best mark in the league. Vancouver is also one of just six teams in the league that have managed to score four short-handed goals or more this season, and are one of the five best teams at generating shots when down a man.
Murphy: You’ve heard it many times before and you’ll hear it a million times again, the team that wins the special teams battle usually wins the game. Vancouver’s power play has been average and probably a little unlucky, but the penalty kill is elite. Considering the Canucks have considerable room to grow when it comes to Corsi, they’ll need their special teams to continue pick them up until it improves.
(Corsi For adjusted stats from stats.hockeyanalysis.com)