I Watched This Game: Canucks at New Jersey Devils, February 24, 2012

One night after accomplishing the nigh-impossible in Detroit, defeating the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, Vancouver set out to unlock an even more elusive achievement: winning a game with offence exclusively by Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond. It wasn’t easy, but after becoming the first road team in 24 tries to leave Michigan with two points, the Canucks were clearly feeling capable of anything.

Granted, it wasn’t exactly an exciting accomplishment to witness, especially after the high standard of entertainment set in the game prior. As sequels go, this was the Staying Alive to Thursday’s night’s Saturday Night Fever. Yes, I have seen both films. I have also seen this game, because I watched this game.

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I Find This Video Odd: Jannik Hansen’s teammates attack him with tape

If you want proof that Ryan Kesler is a strong leader in the Canucks dressing room, consider the growth of interview ruining in the team. It started with Kesler’s obsession with Keslurking, but he started recruiting his teammates earlier this season, ruining Aaron Rome’s moment in the sun.

Now the team has started ruining interviews even when Kesler isn’t around, attacking Jannik Hansen with rolled up balls of hockey tape as he talked to Joey Kenward prior to Thursday’s clash with the Red Wings.

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Drance Numbers: Harry Potter plays soft minutes; the Sedins play optimized minutes

The Canucks blogosphere (lovingly called the Smylosphere by those working within it) has been talking about zone-starts and what they tell us about this team for well over a year now. Lately, however, the conversation has gone mainstream, and articles and broadcast segments about this topic are beginning to appear in places like Hockey Night in Canada and the Vancouver Province. Between the team’s sustained run of success, the uniqueness of their zone-start deployment patterns and, hopefully, several well argued blog-posts on the subject, more people are coming around to the idea that this stuff matters.

But the data remains somewhat problematic, especially for Corsi skeptics. Where shifts begin has a demonstrable impact on possession stats, sure, but what about production? Gabe Desjardins, who runs Behindthenet.ca, suggested that the Sedins benefit from being sheltered to the tune of 7-9 points per season, but that figure was questioned elsewhere.

One of the key things I use zone-starts for when writing about the Canucks is that, if nothing else, they tell a story. If a head coach is relying heavily on a particular skater to start more shifts in his own end when the team is on the road, that’s a pretty good indicator that the coach has a lot of trust in that player’s two-way game.

To put it most simply, zone-starts and quality of competition metrics have improved our understanding of “how NHL players are deployed.” As a result, hockey math nerds have come up with labels over the years to more accurately qualify and describe the roles of certain players. I figured it might be instructive to go through them.

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Video: Roberto Luongo is coming to get this kid

Roberto Luongo has become a very divisive figure in Vancouver. Either you love him or you hate him, and if you hate him, you hate him vociferously. He wilts under pressure. He’s not clutch. He loses his stick too often. He flops around like a fish. These are just some of the oft-voiced criticisms.

But people wouldn’t say these things if Luongo-hating summoned his ghost like saying “Candyman” or “Bloody Mary” three times into a mirror, now would they?

Of course, only a five-year old could believe something that silly. Take Jordan, for instance, a youngun who backs off on his “Carey Price is better than Roberto Luongo” argument the moment his Auntie suggests she might just tell Luongo where he lives and let the Canucks’ netminder come get him.

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