If I told you before the season started that, 20 games into the season, Chris Higgins would be tied with a Sedin for the team-lead in goals, you would assume I was joking. If I told you the Sedin was Henrik, you would know I was joking.
But that’s where we are right now: both Higgins and Henrik have 7 goals in the first 20 games of the season, one more than Daniel Sedin. Ryan Kesler, on the other hand, has fewer goals than Aaron Rome and Rome has played 9 fewer games. Clearly we are in some bizarre alternate dimension.
Higgins is challenging Kesler to be the team’s go-to goalscoring American. He is also challenging Kesler to an ab-off, judging from the picture on the right. Of note, unlike Kesler, he doesn’t require fancy lighting or airbrushing.
If only he only had six goals, I could make a six-pack joke. Now, if I wanted to draw a correlation I’d have to assume that Higgins has a seventh ab and that’s no good.
One of the reasons the Canucks have gotten off to such a slow start this season is that Higgins, along with Cody Hodgson, has been the Canucks’ most consistent forward in terms of effort. The crazy thing is that he’s also been consistent offensively. His longest spell without a point so far has been three games.
He’s on pace for a career-high 29 goals, but it should be noted that his shooting percentage this season is 14.3%, above his career average of 10.5%, so his goal-scoring pace might not continue. With that said, it’s below his career-high in shooting percentage from his rookie season of 15.5% and he’s averaging the most powerplay time of his career since his 2007-08 season with the Canadiens, when he scored 27 goals, with 12 of them coming with the man advantage. So, there’s the possibility that Higgins could return to his 20+ goal ways from the beginning of his career.
But Higgins is not just scoring goals and exposing stellar abdominal muscles; he has contributed to every aspect of the game and has underlying numbers that indicate he is one of the most valuable players in the lineup.
Over at Canucks Army, Cam Charron put together some numbers on the Canucks special teams. On the powerplay, Higgins has been nearly as effective at shot-creation as Kesler and Hodgson, the team’s two best players with the man advantage. His dogged puck pursuit has been a great compliment to Hodgson’s heady playmaking, turning the second unit into a legitimate threat. As for the penalty kill, Higgins is third amongst forwards in shot prevention behind French-Canadian pests Maxim Lapierre and Alex Burrows. What’s most impressive is that he’s doing it against tougher competition.
At even-strength, Higgins has been remarkable: his relative Corsi is sixth amongst Canucks forwards, indicating that he continually creates more shots for than shots against while he is on the ice. He’s pushing puck possession in the right direction with fewer offensive zone starts than the 5 forwards above him in relative Corsi. He’s also the only forward with more than 50% of his starts in the offensive zone whose shifts end in the offensive zone more than they start. Excluding neutral zone starts, Higgins has started 52.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and ended 53.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He consistently moves the puck towards the opponent’s net.
He’s playing against tough competition at even-strength as well, facing the fourth toughest competition amongst Canucks forwards, behind Manny Malhotra, Kesler, and Jannik Hansen, making his solid Corsi particularly impressive.
Finally, we’ve talked about PDO a fair amount this season as a guide for judging a player’s luck and whether a hot or cold streak is likely to continue. PDO combines the team’s save percentage and shooting percentage when a player is on the ice to create a number that trends towards 1000 over a long period of time. With Higgins on pace for a career-high in goals and fourth on the team in points, you would expect him to be riding a PDO over 1000, but that isn’t the case.
Higgins’ PDO through 20 games is 951, one of the lower numbers on the team. This is mostly due to a sub-par on-ice save percentage, which partially explains his minus-5 plus/minus rating, the one blemish on his stat-line. Despite his own above average shooting percentage, that of his linemates is much lower, which may mean that he is due for a few more assists, particularly if he continues to play on the second line with Kesler, who is due to start finishing on a few more of his chances.Tags: abs, Chris Higgins, featured, Statistics, Stats