Murphy’s Mailbag: Do the Canucks play different when holding a lead?

Alex Burrows joined Dan Murphy during the second intermission to comment on being inducted into the Vancouver Canucks Ring of Honour.

The month of November was not kind to the Canucks. In fact by going 5-7-3, I think the best we can say is that they survived it. That’s something that could not be said a year ago.

And speaking of surviving, does it seem like this team has a habit of just trying to “hang on” when playing with a third period lead this season? It sure looks that way at times, often failing spectacularly. The two games that come to mind right off the bat are the home game versus the Capitals on Oct. 25 and the Penguins game on Nov. 27.

First off, I’m not sure that the Washington game fits this storyline. I know the Canucks led 5-1 with a second left in the second period and went on to lose in a shootout. Shocking? Yes. But to me that result was more on Jacob Markstrom than the players in front of him. He had an off period and that ultimately let the Capitals back in the game.

But Pittsburgh? Yeesh. That third period went pear shaped really quick. A 6-3 lead and a power play with just over a half period left and when all was said and done the Canucks didn’t even drag a point out of that one.

And what of that matinee game at MSG on Oct. 20? Rangers outshot Vancouver 17-6 in the third period of that one, but Markstrom shut the door that time. Let’s not forget Music City either. The Predators caved in the Canucks at 5-on-5 all night (shots were 22-6 in the third) and yet a dynamite power play saved the day for Vancouver.

And even Vancouver’s last game versus the Senators. The Canucks had a dynamite first period, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. But there is no way that I was the only one thinking “uh-oh” when J-G Pageau scored early in the second period. And those fears were somewhat founded because Ottawa poured it on in the middle frame and forced Thatcher Demko to come up big time and time again.

Anywho, you get the idea. Playing with the lead has seemed difficult at times for the Canucks.

But what do the numbers show us? GRAPH TIME!

Now this was spoon fed to me (thank you @petbugs13), so bear with me if I’m not great at explaining. You’re looking at shot attempts for in the graph above (all numbers 5-on-5). The dotted red-line is league average and the Canucks are the black diamond. So, the Canucks are about league average when it comes to generating shots when they are down two goals or more, tied, or up a goal. You’ll notice they are a little above league average here when down a goal and then what really jumps out is that the Canucks stomp on the gas if they’re up two or more goals.

Now here is where things get a little more interesting. Here are shot attempts against. Again, the Canucks are pretty much league average across the board except when leading by one. In fact they are the worst team in the league at surrendering 5-on-5 shot attempts when up by a goal.

Now, I’m not going to get really deep into the stats for this exercise, but believe me that the numbers show the Canucks are way above league average in giving up quality shots and chances when up a goal as well. Whichever way you want to break it down, it doesn’t look good.

Oh, except for the way they shoot.

The Canucks have a terrible shooting rate when down a goal, but when up one or more they have managed to adjust their sights big time.

So why do they go into a shell when leading by one? Psychology? A slight change in systems to protect the lead? For what it’s worth, Canucks assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner says they do not change anything systems-wise when the club has a lead. The forecheck stays the same. Same goes for the neutral zone coverage.

It’s just so weird because when the Canucks get a two-goal lead it seems to be pedal to the medal again. Perhaps the insurance goal relieves a little pressure and allows them to play freely once again. Regardless of what it is, the Canucks are really going to have to learn how to play better with a one-goal lead if they want to stay relevant in the playoff race.

Okay, now it’s mailbag time. Starting with a few for Alex Burrows, who was inducted into the Canucks’ Ring of Honour on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena.

Burrows: It’s not like I would go online and google players or anything like that. But at any dinner or night out with the guys you would always hear them talk about former teammates. And let’s just say my mental recorder was always rolling.

Burrows on the incident with Downey above, and what pushed the Wing to spear him: “I was complimenting him on his potato farm saying he must like the french fries the best because he’s looking a little chubby.”

I’m speaking for Alex here because I didn’t get him on the record for this one. But I have spoken to him many times about some of his big moments. And one that really sticks out to him was Oct. 9, 2008 when the Canucks paid tribute to Luc Bourdon.

Luc and Alex were very close and he was very proud that he could have an impact on what was such an emotional night. Burrows scored twice in the 6-0 win over the Flames and no Canucks fan will ever forget his goal celebration when he shot the arrow up into the sky to his late friend. A celebration he would go to after scoring big goals in his career.

If I’m going to the city for a hockey game only, then it’s Montreal and it’s not particularly close. Not only is Montreal an unreal city (yes even in the winter), the Bell Centre experience is amazing. I should also add that I really like going to Toronto. I know a lot of people out west don’t want to hear it, but Toronto has a really good vibe. And there is no shortage of things to do.

We are quarantined from the players a bit as the trainers sit between us and the players. So really I’m stuck travelling with this guy.

I can say that the treats are in a bin right above our seats, so we will have some good chats when players come up to grab some mid-flight sweets.

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