In a vacuum, getting two points on the final two games of a long road trip is fine. Unfortunately, this isn’t a vacuum anymore. Losing the first three makes a difference, and the Canucks have quickly dug a pretty deep hole in their quest for the playoffs, even before the home opener.
Two things before we start.
First, the math: let’s say that 95 points makes the playoffs. By virtue of gaining just 2 points in the first 5 games, the Canucks now need 93 points over the next 77 games to reach that target. That is a 99-point pace. It’s not impossible, but it also means that they’ll need to start winning winnable games. They’ll need a bounce or two to go their way in games they don’t necessarily deserve to win, which is something they haven’t gotten yet. Those will come, but the Canucks do also need to play better, since right now they’re losing a lot of games they deserve to lose.
Second, this was not a very good hockey game. It was fun at times, and had some flow because there were long stretches without faceoffs to disrupt the action, but neither team played very well. One thing that makes teams and games “watchable” is the ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone with control. It seems simple, but everything kind of happens through that controlled exit: it sets the table for an offensive possession. When neither team does it (the Wild can occasionally play the “punt and hunt” style of game, which involves winning battles in key areas to gain possession, keeping the game slow) the game can get really choppy. It sucks to watch hockey when neither team can string two passes together, and there was a lot of that going on.
OK, the stats.
5v5 Shots and scoring chances
I think (I could check, but I won’t, since it feels right) this is the first time this season the Canucks D has out-chanced their opponents, at a hilarious 2-1 margin. The Wild back line did not move the puck very well, despite having some very capable pieces. Spurgeon, Dumba, Addison, Goligoski are all quite good offensively normally. Brodin and Middleton are a bit more defensive, but this is a pretty balanced group that ought to be able to be more active. They weren’t in this game, which took away from some of the enjoyment.
The territorial play was roughly even. The attempted shots were tied, the Canucks had a slight edge in taken attempts, and the Wild had a slight edge in scoring chances. They also had a massive advantage in percentage of scoring chances that were on net: the Wild blocked 6 shots that would be considered a scoring chance. The Canucks only blocked 1, but they disrupted 10 (meaning the shot was there, but never got off).
Let’s see how each team created their shots:
Posting verbatim from my Leafs recap (I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing myself:
We’re going to find that most shots come in a section of game I call “Cycle+”.
“Rush” and “transition” shots are within 6 seconds of a controlled entry (chosen to replicate Mike D’Antoni’s “six seconds or less” offence), with a “rush” being a play where the attacking team came the whole length of the ice, while “transition” implies that they won a battle in the NZ to create the controlled entry.
“Forecheck” shots are the same, but they come within 6 seconds of a dump-in or 3 seconds of an opposition turnover. They’re meant to imply a bit more of a quick-strike element. “Faceoff” shots are within 10 seconds of a won or lost faceoff. You also won’t often see these shots show up in the scoring chance column. “Cycle+” is anything past 6 seconds of a entry, 3 seconds of a turnover, or 10 seconds of a faceoff. If some stray shot falls into the “miscellaneous” column, I’ll find out what I did wrong and correct the error.
The Wild had a few extra scoring chances in this one. The game was mostly even, but they created two “forecheck” chances and two “faceoff” chances where the Canucks generated none. Both teams were about as effective off the rush and in transition as the other.
- I really didn’t know what to expect with Andrei Kuzmenko coming into the season. I didn’t like him in exhibition, and thought that his decision-making was a bit too slow. That may have been premature, as he’s been one of the two best playmakers on this team (him and Podkolzin might wind up tied for the team lead in scoring chance setups by the end of the season). I like the look of this “3rd” line and hope it sticks together.
- Horvat looked a lot better than Pettersson in this game, but his linemates (particularly Pearson) played poorly for me at 5v5, so his line took a bit of a beating in possession. I think Horvat is a bit underrated in hockey, even among the Canucks twittersphere. He’s Bruce Boudreau’s swiss army knife-type, used in multiple line combinations for defensive zone starts, and is still a threat to create stuff every shift. To me, he’s the guy you keep around through the rebuild.
- I hate to admit, JT Miller had so few puck touches in the first period that when he made his first, I reminded myself that Miller was even playing in the game. He was just invisible in the offensive zone. He took no shots and set up just one, a Conor Garland scoring chance midway through the game. That was the only scoring chance that top line generated. Do you remember it? I sure don’t.
- Both chances from the Canucks D came from Myers, while Hughes did have a late setup on an excellent Boeser chance, we still saw not enough offence from the group.
- The fourth line had a bit of finish, for once. I think I’m contractually obligated to note that Nils Aman led the Canucks in corsi in this game. I haven’t liked this group all year, and it’s a Pyrrhic victory for the line to cash in twice in this game, since it probably means Hoglander has to sit. Those two goals could cost the Canucks late in the year, particularly since they convinced Boudreau to use Aman more and more as the game went on, even during 4v4.
- Aman and Joshua are 43% corsi on the season when together. Add Lazar, and they’re 47%. I tend to land on the side of “4th lines don’t matter”, but a key reason why there’s been a recent sharp increase in scoring is that teams are using skilled players on the fourth line, and looking around the league, this is one of the worst regular groups put together.
- Look at the difference in chance generation from the Canucks top line and what a true elite top line looks like. Kaprizov was flying, and I’m a little surprised I didn’t record him for any shots at 5v5. He did pass the puck well, and Hartman and Zuccarello both benefit greatly. Though only one of the three goals from the Wild top line came at 5v5, their ability to create and finish was the ultimate difference in this game.
- Matt Boldy is a player. He had two shots that were chances, and set up two more. He also got to key areas and forced the Canucks to work. Ekman-Larsson had to break up a Boldy rush midway through the third during the 4v4 sequence. Demko had a key pokecheck on him late, and Boldy just whiffed on a prime scoring chance in the overtime period, set up by Gaudreau. He doesn’t need a map of the offensive zone.
- Brandon Duhaime? Apparently I recorded him taking four chances. Off the top of my head and without checking my notes, I can maybe remember one, where he teed it up all alone from the high slot and whistled it about six feet high and wide (juuuuust a bit wide).
- This ties into my point above about the 4th lines. This is the first time the Wild have used this combination (Duhaime-Steel-Jost), and the team were quick to split up their original trio (Dewar-Rossi-Duhaime) when they struggled through two games.
The Wild held the advantage in entry differential and controlled entry percentage. They were also a bit more efficient on their controlled entries, creating 0.7 chances per controlled entry (up from the Canucks’ 0.6).
The Canucks D had their best game on the season, though, with 7 controlled entries on 15 attempts. That only turned into four scoring chances, but it was better than what the Wild back end did. As noted, the Wild didn’t move the puck particularly well in this game, and we’ll find that their entry advantage was more or less due to one player (guess which one!)
The Wild recovered a few more of their dump-ins, but weren’t able to effectively turn them into chances like the Canucks were.
I should give Ilya Mikheyev some credit here. He won two retrieval races for dump-in recoveries, and forced 4 DZ turnovers by the Wild D and was the best puck hound in this game.
- One game after his scratch, Garland was very active, with 11 entries, though just two were with control and 3 were turned over at the attacking blue line.
- Pettersson had a big night, at 4-for-8. I can’t say I really noticed much of him, but I’ll have to re-shape my evaluation of him seeing the numbers. Most of the offence the Canucks third line created seem to be as a result of his work in the neutral zone, so credit to him.
- I guess I’ll have to give some faint praise to the fourth line, particularly Dakota Joshua here, who had the next-best night for the Canucks in the neutral zone, after Pettersson. His pass at the line that led to the Aman goal was very slick. I don’t think that quite makes up for the plays he hasn’t made so far this season.
- Kaprizov looked great. When he’s really humming, he’s the most entertaining #97 in the NHL to watch. The Wild first line generated tonnes of chances, and it was mostly due to their ability to enter the zone with control. Look at the difference between the two top lines. For Minnesota: 13-for-22 and 2 failed entries, with 11 scoring chances created. For Vancouver: 5-for-17 and 3 failed entries, with just 2 scoring chances.
- On each line, the Wild had one player that was entering the zone often. Eriksson Ek on L2, Boldy on L3, and Jost on L4. They were able to create good entries despite the Wild D not moving the puck all that well, and the team itself also didn’t have a lot of failed entries. They won the battles in key areas and kept the play moving. I think they had an off night, but they’re a very good team and they were able to succeed despite the D not doing a good job getting the puck to them.
- Myers had the worst night here, conceding the blue line 9 times, forcing 0 failed entries. It resulted in 6 scoring chances for the Wild. Ekman-Larsson conceded the blueline a bit, but also pinned the Wild 4 times for failed entries.
- This is the second night I’ve posted the rate of scoring chances per entry against, and it’s also the second night Hughes has had the highest number for the Canucks. His overall entry defence play seems to be quite strong, so Vancouver comes out ahead with him defensively, but I do wonder if we’ll find that he struggles to defend once in the DZ.
- The Canucks did well against Spurgeon and Addison, though failed to generate much in the OZ against Addison or Goligoski (likely because 3rd pair D play against lesser forwards). They didn’t do so well against Brodin, who forced 4 failed entries.
Exits and DZ touches
Neither team’s D really exited the zone with control much. While the Wild forwards exited with control just 44% of the time, I think that’s because the back end was passing them the puck in bad spots. We can see a high turnover rate for that group.
The Canucks seemed to get the puck to their forwards for exits, but they also turned the puck over a lot (though this was due to one particular player) and didn’t exit well themselves. We also see a lot more uncontrolled exits by the Canucks D, likely feeling a bit of heat (especially late in the game, the Canucks D was 2-for-7 in the 3rd period on zone exits, preferring to flip the puck to centre)
Individual numbers may shed some light:
- OEL had a bit of an adventure handling the puck in his own end, committing 7 turnovers on just 20 touches. It makes Hughes’ 3 turnovers on 17 touches not look quite as bad.
- Hughes set up just one scoring chance, had just one controlled entry, and no controlled exits. I think he’s absolutely exhausted and was ridden pretty hard on the road trip by Boudreau, especially since the team was down defencemen in two of the last five games. The Canucks get almost no rest before the home opener, and don’t get a two-day break for another week (after which it’s another back-to-back).
- Zero controlled exits for Curtis Lazar. I wouldn’t normally mention that, but late in the game, Boudreau sent out a peculiar combination for two DZ faceoffs: Miller-Horvat-Lazar. I can understand the logic behind having Horvat (lefty C) and Lazar (righty C) on the ice. But having three faceoff-takers specially (when only two would be eligible to line up on any given faceoff) seems like it’s too much effort to play for the faceoff and not for what comes after the faceoff.
- So maybe you have Horvat and Miller out there, with Miller as insurance on a left-side draw. Lazar is available post-icing if the the faceoff is on the right side. Is winning the faceoff more important than what happens after? You’re still in the DZ and you need to get the puck out cleanly so that your opponent doesn’t come back into it. There are far better options than Lazar for this role, such as Mikheyev, who may struggle offensively but is outrageously good at exiting the DZ… so I’m told.
- Perhaps I’m too harsh on the Minnesota D in general since all of their expected puck movers had off-nights. Jacob Middleton, who I’m not that familiar with but I expect classes more as a traditional “defensive” defenceman, had a very good night moving the puck for the Wild and has a fantastic stache to boot.
- This was one area of the game Kaprizov did NOT excel in, not only making just 2 controlled exits on 4 attempts, but also turning the puck over 3 times on 10 DZ touches.
Thank you for reading. I hope you found something informative in here. I’m not a huge fan of website comments, so if you have suggestions, notes on what you liked or didn’t like, kindly get at me on Twitter @camcharronyvr, or send me an email email@example.com.
These postgame reports will be free through the month of October. If you enjoyed the content, please consider buying a site subscription when the option becomes available.
I Watched This Game: Pass it to Bulis