Thanks to a litany of injuries (and, apparently, dehydration), the Canucks’ forward lines have been a complete mess recently. During one game, last season’s second line of Ryan Kesler, David Booth, and Chris Higgins was out, and Keith Ballard has now played three games as a forward on the third line. After passing up Jussi Jokinen on waivers, the Canucks are still relying on Andrew Ebbett to centre their third line until Kesler returns.
Despite all this, the Canucks are on a five-game winning streak, largely thanks to some stellar goaltending by Cory Schneider, as well as secondary scoring from the second and third lines. While some fans have complained about the Canucks’ depth at forward, it strikes me that their forward depth is actually pretty strong for the team to be missing so many players and still ice a lineup capable of winning games.
So how do the Canucks’ lines compare with the rest of the NHL? Despite missing Ryan Kesler, very favourably.
On Tuesday, Tyler Dellow published a post on placing the Corsi statistic in its proper context. He did this by sorting all of the forwards from last season into the equivalent of first, second, third, and fourth lines by ice time, then comparing their Corsi rating.
He did this because Corsi can frequently be abused. Simply saying that one player is good because he has a high Corsi number and another is bad because he has a low Corsi number is far too simplistic.
The starting point for me, when I’m looking at Corsi data, is always remembering that there are different expectations depending on where you are in the lineup. No hockey team is made up entirely of Datsyuks, puck possession wizards who crush the opposition in terms of shots when they’re on the ice. Generally speaking, as you go further down the lineup, the players get weaker in terms of their ability to gain and keep possession of the puck.
As a reminder, Corsi is basically an extension of the plus/minus statistic that uses a larger sample size by counting all shots — on goal, missed, or blocked — for or against when a player is on the ice. It has been found to correlate strongly with scoring chances. Basically, a good team that creates scoring chances and scores goals is going to simultaneously create a more shots than their opposition. Teams that are trying to get high-quality shots will also get a high-quantity of shots.
Here is the result of Dellow’s breakdown, which you can click to embiggen:
Dellow used Corsi as measured by percentage: above 50% indicates that when that player was on the ice, his team took more shots than the opposition. These results shouldn’t come as a surprise: first line players are the best at puck possession, then second line players, and so on. In general, this means that NHL coaches have a pretty decent idea of who their best players are and give them the appropriate amount of ice time.
Dellow took this a step further by splitting each of those groups of players into 5 groups to show the range of Corsi ratings and how that turns into goal differential. Once again, click to embiggen:
I find the goal differential column on the far right particularly interesting. Dellow set the lowest rated group from each line to a baseline of zero goals, which shows the difference in goals you can expect for each group. Essentially, if your first line is composed of players from the top-rated group of first line forwards, that works out to about 20-21 more goals for your team over an 82-game season than if it was composted of players from the bottom-rated group.
So, when you’re constructing an ideal team that is still realistic, you want each of your lines to be composed of players from the top-rated group for each line.
How do the Canucks fit into this scheme? Let’s take a look:
ES Ice Time is the determinant factor in figuring out which line each player is on, so these lines don’t precisely line up with what we might consider to be the Canucks’ actual lines. The players are listed by ice time. I also limited it to at least 10 games played, which eliminates Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra, Steve Pinizzotto, and Andrew Gordon, but accommodates Andrew Ebbett and David Booth.
It’s also important to keep in mind that this doesn’t take usage into account, such as zone starts and quality of competition. Both Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen spent some time on a checking line, starting shifts mainly in the defensive zone and the same is true for Dale Weise and Maxim Lapierre. Lapierre has started just 22.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone as compared to the defensive zone, so his low Corsi rating shouldn’t be a surprise.
Still, this gives us some insight into how the Canucks’ lineup stacks up across the league.
The Canucks’ first line, unsurprisingly, is right at the top of the charts and is actually well above the average for the top-20 first-line players in the NHL. Their execution hasn’t been perfect recently, with Daniel in particular seeming to second-guess himself when he gets scoring chances, but their puck possession game is still fantastic and the Sedins frequently spend long shifts in the offensive zone.
On the second line, things get a little dicey. Higgins has struggled without Kesler and Booth. Placing him with the Sedins has seemed to spark his game a bit, but he seems to be showing that he’s more of a complementary player instead of someone who can drive puck possession on his own.
Hansen is sitting right at league average for a second-line player, but his usage has been so different from the start of the season to where he is now that it’s hard to judge if that’s accurate. Now that he’s playing on a scoring line with Raymond, he’s been very good from a puck possession standpoint, whereas earlier in the season he got soundly thumped while playing a more defensive role.
Raymond and Booth, on the other hand are both above average, with Booth posting closer to first-line Corsi numbers.
It’s easy to see why Jordan Schroeder earned his way on to the second line, as he is well above average for a third-line player, as is Zack Kassian. Both of them are right at the top-ranking for third-line players. Andrew Ebbett, meanwhile, is right at the average, while Lapierre is well below, sitting between the fourth and fifth rankings among third-liners, though his extreme zone starts should be taken into account.
Surprisingly, Tom Sestito is right at league-average when it comes to fourth liners. He’s been solid so far for the Canucks and far better than I expected. Weise, however, is below-average, though he was used in a similar way to Lapierre earlier in the season and had a positive Corsi at that time.
With Schroeder on the second line, the Canucks’ top two lines are above the league average, with the third line about average and the fourth line a little below average. That’s nothing a new third-line centre (or the return of a very good second-line center) won’t fix.Tags: Statistics