Drance Numbers: Which Canucks’ defender suppresses shots most effectively?

Earlier this week, Alain Vigneault talked about Chris Higgins’ plus-5 scoring chance differential over the Canucks’ losses to the Sabres and Stars. The two-game sample Vigneault referred to isn’t much to go on, but it was enough to make plain that the Canucks use a different methodology in their in-house tracking of scoring chances than what we use to track scoring chance data over at Canucks Army. What Vigneault’s number did correlate exactly with, however, was Higgins’ personal Fenwick +/- number.

This isn’t the first time that the Canucks seemed to be paying close attention to a players’ Fenwick number. At about this time last season, when everyone was confused as to why Vigneault seemed to prefer the unremarkable Aaron Rome over the more visibly skilled Keith Ballard, Cam Charron pointed out that Rome’s Fenwick events against rate was significantly lower than Ballard’s. We theorized that, for a third pairing defenseman, Vigneault preferred Rome’s “safe minutes” to Ballard’s more adventurous (albeit exciting) style of play.

Because I’m increasingly convinced that the Canucks place importance on a players’ individual “fenwick number,” I figured it would be worthwhile to break down the Canucks’ blue-line in this manner. Let’s see if we can get a handle on which defencemen have been the “best” defensively from a shot suppression standpoint.

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Breakdowning Sammy Pahlsson’s game-winner versus the Winnipeg Jets

Thursday night’s tilt with the Winnipeg Jets was, like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, a barn-burner. It was a wide open affair with chances in both directions, as the two teams combined for 77 shots on goal with another 64 attempted. Amazingly, considering the speed of the game and the plenitude of opportunities for sexy offensive plays, the Canucks’ first two goals came on fluky bounces.

But Sammy Pahlsson’s game-winner was as hot as Ilya Bryzgalov’s husky.

Upon revisiting it, I’m struck by just how easily that play — in which the puck practically nests at the top of the zone, untouched, for a couple unnervingly long stretches — could have gone horribly awry. Kevin Bieksa’s primary assist, especially, could just have easily been the second assist on a game-winning goal for the Jets.

Bieksa often gets criticized for playing too casual or too loose, especially with the game on the line, and he certainly would have faced those criticisms if this play had been broken up. But it wasn’t, and thus, we break down the game-winning goal by Sammy Pahlsson, not Bryan Little, and a brilliant, not bone-headed, play by Kevin Bieksa.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Winnipeg Jets, March 8, 2012

This game was like the spaces favoured by The Dixie Chicks: wide open. There were 77 shots on net between the two teams, with another 43 shots blocked, and 21 missed shots. That’s a grand total of 141 attempted shots or, as the stats nerds would say, 141 Corsi events.

It’s a lot easier to understand now how the Jets were involved in a 9-8 slugfest with the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this season. The only reason this game didn’t devolve into similar silliness was the seriousness of Cory Schneider and Ondrej Pavelec, who combined for 72 saves. That’s still less than 77, which explains why goals were scored. I watched this game.

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