I don’t know where to start with this one. It’s been very difficult to stay motivated to track these games since outside of the Pettersson line, it’s been unwatchable. Still, I consider this a meaningful public service. At some point next week I will do an autopsy of these first few games. The benefit of having very detailed data is we’re able to determine exactly what is going wrong.
Still though, an autopsy requires a dead body, and the Canucks aren’t quite dead yet. They’re close. They’re already 4 points back of the St. Louis Blues, who have played just 3 games. Reaching 95 points at this point now requires the Canucks to play at a 100-point pace the rest of the way.
First, though, let’s talk about tear-down rebuilds. The Sabres are looking like a team on the cusp of turning the corner. They swept their Western Canada road trip and are looking like a more complete team than I envisioned.
I do want to stress, though, that this doesn’t really have much to do with the brazen tanking the team did in the ’14-15 season, where they unloaded every useful player they had in an attempt to lose as many games as possible. The environment around the Sabres after that was so toxic.
The funny thing is, the Sabres are where they are because of decisions they made over a decade ago. They went all-in on a roster that wasn’t nearly good enough. The team had 100 points in ’09-10 and 96 points in ’10-11, a far cry from the Presidents’ Trophy team of ’06-07. After the 2011 season, new ownership wanted to make a splash. They signed Christian Ehrhoff to a big, 10-year contract. They signed Andrej Sekera and Ville Leino. They added flawed pieces to a roster that wasn’t good enough, and got worse. They had 89 points in ’11-12 and sold at the deadline. They have never really recovered from that one offseason.
The Sabres have had so many heartbreaking false starts over the years. It will be a few more weeks before we have enough information to declare whether or not this team is “Actually Good”. Maybe they do turn the corner under this iteration of the core. The team seemed to have no direction over the years, signing big free agent contracts (Kyle Okposo is still here. Remember Matt Moulson? Brian Gionta? Or Andrej Meszaros?) when the situation didn’t warrant it.
The last playoff game the Sabres played came the night Alex Burrows slayed the dragon. Brad Boyes scored the team’s last playoff goal, assisted by Derek Roy and then-rookie Tyler Myers. What this team looks like now is not a reflection of the choices the Sabres made that offseason, but a result of finally putting a plan in place. If properly executed, it doesn’t take much time to turn boats around in the NHL.
And back to the Canucks, why this looks so bad is because there’s no clear plan. There’s one exciting line. There are no good puck-moving defencemen, a fact that is becoming more noticeable by the game. Players are arguing between periods and swearing at each other on the ice when their teammates make mistakes. It’s not cohesive. It seems toxic.
Onto the numbers.
5v5 shots and scoring chances
The Canucks held a sizeable territorial edge here, with 59 attempted shots to Buffalo’s 48. However, you don’t even need to glance to the chances columns to see some cracks in the foundation: 23 of the Canucks 49 shots were taken by defence, compared to just 9 of 41 for Buffalo. The Sabres did a much better job getting the puck to their shooters.
Then we see the chances and… none of the 23 shots taken by Canucks D were scoring chances.
How the teams set up their shots?
The Canucks actually kept up with the Sabres in rush and transition chances. It was on the forecheck that the Sabres generated a little bit more though, with the Canucks probably relying a little too much on low-to-high passes back to the point, while the Sabres were trying to work the puck into the slot and got open for a few unpressured looks.
Here are the individual numbers:
- The 92-40-96 line was clicking again in this one. Per NST, through two games together they’re generating 82 shot attempts per 60 minutes, have out-shot their opponents 32-21, and somehow 0-3 in the goals department. I would obviously keep them together, as they’re the only line that’s really playing with any sort of cohesiveness right now. They move the puck very well in the OZ and it was Pettersson this game acting as the distributor. All three players can pass and shoot, though.
- The Miller line finally had a decent outing, though Miller himself wasn’t really a factor. Garland and Mikheyev played well, both setting up their own scoring chance multiple times.
- Without Quinn Hughes, not only did the Canucks D not register a scoring chance, but they also only set up one as a group, Jack Rathbone.
- I liked Rathbone in this one. I’m naturally skeptical of offensive D that haven’t made the NHL at his age. His corsi was the worst among Canucks D, but we’ll see in this recap that there weren’t any glaring weaknesses to his game. He was stuck on the ice twice as the left D (the bench was on the right side) when his teammates were able to change but he wasn’t.
- Despite the Canucks top line waking up a bit, they were still out-chanced by the Sabres top line. In addition, more of those chances were preceded by puck movement (5 for the Sabres, 3 for the Canucks). Skinner did a good job of getting to the net and Tuch was able to find him a couple of times.
- What I liked about the Sabres offence was they seemed to have a good understanding of how to maximize the space available. I saw Tuch, Dahlin, and Power often drop the shoulder and work below the net, creating a bit of extra space using the net to separate from the defender. You can also move to undefended space while you wait for a teammate to find soft ice. There’s no reason to rush your OZ chances.
- I’m not the biggest fan of Victor Olofsson or Casey Mittelstadt, but they were effective in this one. Olofsson is a shooter, so he’s fine if you can get the puck to him. The Sabres got the puck to him, and both of his goals were pretty much undefended tap-ins with no Canuck sticks around to disrupt him.
- I was excited to watch Owen Power, since Dimitri Filipovic of the PDOCast keeps telling me about how well he moves around the OZ. I didn’t pick up on any of that in my tracking unfortunately, but Dahlin had an excellent game, setting up three scoring chances on his own, which I think is the most by a D in a game I’ve tracked this season.
- Would Jacob Bryson be the best defenceman on the Canucks with Hughes out? He might be.
5v5 Zone entries
As noted above, territorial play and rush chances weren’t what hurt the Canucks in this one. The Canucks held a slight edge in entry attempts, but the Sabres were a bit better at gaining the OZ with control. Still, the teams created a roughly equal number of chances off those entries.
This was a big difference in the game: the Sabres generated 7 chances following their dump-ins (they recovered 15 of 26) and the Canucks generated just 2 (they recovered 16 of 34).
- Without Hughes around, Tyler Myers understood the assignment, generating a team-high 10 entries, 4 with control. It led to just 1 scoring chance, but at least one non-Hughes Canucks D was able to generate a little bit in the NZ, even if it was accidental.
- The 92-40-96 line did well here, as expected based on their scoring chances. Every player had at least 3 entries. Podkolzin’s entries led to 4 chances, a team-high. They had a single failed entry. They’re just a very productive group.
- After the game, Bruce Boudreau said that Nils Aman is the team’s second best player after Elias Pettersson. I disagree with the assessment. Aman has created very little, and they were completely out-matched by the Sabres top line in this one. He and Joshua (who have played every game on the 4th line together this season) are bottom on the Canucks in corsi. They can’t move the puck effectively. It’s a problem, and Boudreau’s quote makes me think there’s some internal battle raging over Aman. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that management would much rather have Hoglander there.
- Tage didn’t really do much in the scoring chance department, taking one chance and setting up two, but he certainly set the table for Tuch and Skinner, going 7-for-7 on controlled entries. Those entries led to 6 Sabres chances, a fantastic number.
- I put down in my notes the effect of an Owen Power entry with 6:03 remaining in the first period. The Sabres didn’t really generate a lot of good chances on the ensuing offensive sequence, but the entry did come mid-line change for the Canucks, with Miller and Mikheyev caught on the ice. The Sabres were able to change during that sequence, that eventually ended a minute later on a Lazar clear. However, the Sabres were well-positioned to take advantage of a tired group, and moved the puck back into the zone before all the Canucks could get off the ice (Lazar and Rathbone were caught). Skinner dumped it in, Tuch recovered, OEL ran into Rathbone, and Tuch scored. The game was basically over at that point.
- Ekman-Larsson and Myers allowed a lot of zone entries against, but they didn’t lead to too many Buffalo chances.
- The Sabres lost Samuelsson pretty early on to a scary-looking knee injury. I was looking forward to evaluating his defensive game. Too bad for him and I hope he recovers quickly.
- Power was very active. He was targeted 16 times and made it very tough for the Canucks, allowing just 7 controlled entries against and forcing 4 failed entries. The Canucks had much more success against Lyubushkin, against whom they went 6-for-9 and created 7 scoring chances.
5v5 DZ touches and zone exits
The Sabres exited the DZ with control a lot more efficiently than the Canucks did. The data hints that they used shorter passes to generate exits: Sabres forwards had a much higher share of the exits than Canucks forwards did. Even though the Canucks D exited with control more than half the time, the Sabres forwards were much more efficient.
- Just nothing from the top two lines here. You want your forwards to be a lot more involved on the breakout than they were. The D group isn’t good enough to consistently hit the 50-foot passes you’re expecting them to hit.
- There was a moment in the second period that stood out to me: in the second period, Burroughs and Podkolzin worked the puck over to Schenn, who had an easy lane to the neutral zone (I indicated these players were “free” passes, implying no forechecking pressure). Schenn turned it over to Skinner instead, leading to a shot, which led to a panicked clearance from Burroughs, which led to another offensive sequence. The Canucks weren’t able to get their only good line in the offensive zone because Schenn messed up a very easy pass.
- You could see Podkolzin make a motion as if he was swearing when Schenn turned it over. As much hay was made at the Schenn-Garland/Miller rift at the intermission, this was also a telling moment. If you want to check it out, it happened with 9:02 left.
- OEL’s turnover before the Tuch goal was just the 2nd for the Canucks in the game at that point, and things got worse from there, obviously.
- Power was good. Dahlin had some adventures.
- You can see that, compared to the Canucks top two lines, everybody in the Sabres top six was pretty active exiting the zone, particularly Tuch, Hinostroza, and Cozens. Girgensons had a good night moving the puck as well.
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.
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