Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Ryan Kesler’s remarkable special teams contributions.

Including last night’s convincing victory against the Randy Newman-loving L.A. Kings, Ryan Kesler has played 11 games since rejoining the team following offseason hip surgery. While he has played reasonably well, he’s yet to return to last year’s dominance.

Talking to Iain Macintyre this week, Alain Vigneault preached patience in regards to the reigning Selke-winner. Vigneault spoke of Kesler’s “timing and instincts” being off, admitting, “We all feel [that] he can play better than he has.” Kesler functionally concurred with his coach, telling MacIntyre, “this is going to take time. I’m just going to stick with it and stay positive. Obviously, my game and skating isn’t where it should be.”

While it’s true that Kesler isn’t operating at one-hundred percent, there’s more going here. He’s adjusting to a new linemate in David Booth and the bounces haven’t been kind to their line. Furthermore, his struggles have been somewhat exaggerated, especially since they’re only at even-strength: on special teams, Kesler has been the best Vancouver forward.

To demonstrate this, we’ll take a look at the scoring chance data for the team in special teams situations. A scoring chance is defined by Derek Zona of Copper and Blue as:

A clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area – loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes slightly more generous than that depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a “chance for” if someone on his team has a chance to score and a “chance against” if the opposing team has a chance to score.

Scoring chances are of more value than plus/minus, possession stats or even point totals in my opinion, because they are the most similar in spirit to what the Canucks coaching staff uses to track each individual skater’s performance. If you’re interested, I took an exhaustive look at the team’s 5-on-5 chance data so far this season on Tuesday.

The Sedins are such dominant scorers that it may come as a surprise to many folks to learn that Ryan Kesler has been the Canucks’ most efficient forward with the man-advantage for a few seasons in a row now. Though the goals and assists haven’t necessarily been credited to Kesler (he’s eighth on the team in PP scoring rate, not counting Aaron “Paul Coffey” Rome), it’s pretty clear that the first unit generates more chances with Kesler than without him.

The table below includes all power-play chances for (PP CF) and against (PP CA) for Canucks forwards with more than ten minutes of total power-play ice-time. It also includes their total amount of power-play ice time (PP TOI), and each forward’s individual chance-rate (number of chances for (PP CF/2.5) and against (PP CF/2.5) per 150 seconds of power-play ice-time). As you can see, Ryan Kesler leads the way for all Canucks forwards in terms of efficiently generating scoring chances:

Skater PP CF PP CA PP TOI PP CF/2.5 PP CA/2.5
Ryan Kesler #17 36 4 52:52 1.7 0.19
Henrik Sedin #33 48 6 73:13 1.64 0.2
Daniel Sedin #22 48 7 73:51 1.62 0.24
Cody Hodgson #9 23 3 36:00 1.6 0.21
Mikael Samuelsson #26 18 4 28:51 1.56 0.35
Chris Higgins #20 23 3 37:25 1.54 0.2
Alex Burrows #14 29 4 43:39 1.46 0.2
David Booth #7 9 3 16:17 1.38 0.46

A few quick observations: first of all, Cody Hodgson is really, really good at hockey.

Also, if you ever wondered why Alex Burrows doesn’t get much power-play time, the data is pretty clear. My observation is that while Burrows excels on the rush and in a net presence role, he struggles to control the puck when set up in the offensive zone (a particular deficiency that playing full time with the Sedin twins helps to obscure).

Third, I’ve heard many Canucks fans complain about Mikael Samuelsson being a “defensive liability” when playing the point on the power-play over the last couple of years. I always rejected that, but, based on the data from this season, those complaints were more fair than I’d realized.

Finally, I wouldn’t waste any time hand-wringing over Booth’s performance with the man-advantage, as 16 minutes and 17 seconds of ice-time is an extremely small sample.

Let’s move onto the penalty-kill, which has been so effective since Kesler’s return that it could be accurately described as outrageous (and unsustainable). Again we’ll take a look at the scoring chance data to determine which Canucks penalty killers have done the best to prevent dangerous shots against while the team is short-handed. Take a wild guess at who tops the list:

Skater SH CF SH CA SH TOI SH CA Per 2.5
Ryan Kesler #17 2 12 23: 19 1.28
Chris Higgins #20 3 16 30: 14 1.32
Jannik Hansen #36 1 22 40: 18 1.36
Alex Burrows #14 2 15 26: 45 1.4
Maxim Lapierre #40 5 20 35: 05 1.43
Manny Malhotra #27 2 33 47: 50 1.73

Kesler’s effectiveness short-handed is nothing new, but the fact that he is so clearly the team’s best option despite his continued recovery surprised me.

While the narrative says that Kesler’s recent play lags behind the standard we’ve come to expect from one of the league’s best two-way players, his performance on special teams has clearly been exceptional. It’s not a coincidence that the powerplay has connected 16 times in 57 opportunities (good for 28%), while the penalty kill has gone a ridiculous 42 for their last 44, (good for 95.4%) since Kesler’s return. It’s only a matter of time before Kesler is back to his old self, thoroughly crushing whatever line has the misfortune to match-up against him at even-strength.

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  1. erik
    November 11, 2011

    Why divide by 2.5?

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  2. ArtemChubarov
    November 11, 2011

    2.5 is my rough attempt to simulate a per/game rate. Really the way to do that is to use 3 minutes for defenders short handed, 2 minutes for forwards short-handed, 2.75 for defenders on the powerplay and 2.5 for forwards on the powerplay. I figured a 2.5 rate would standardize my results (as I plan on updating these numbers throughout the season).

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  3. Anonymous
    November 11, 2011

    This is cool to see when broken down like this. We’re so blessed to have a player like Kesler on this team.

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