The Paper Feature will run every Wednesday in the Vancouver Sun’s print edition, as well as online here at Pass it to Bulis. (It’s called the Paper Feature for what we hope are obvious reasons.)
Here’s a potentially-alarming fact: if the NHL playoffs were to commence tomorrow, the Canucks would miss the cut.
This next part is less alarming: the playoffs don’t start tomorrow. (That’s good, because I was starting to get worried that I had somehow missed a full 5 months of my life given all the consternation in Canuck nation, and I would cry if I missed Christmas. And my son’s birthday; that’s probably important too.)
Thanks to a hyper-competitive Western Conference, the Canucks’ 11-8-4 record has them in ninth place, just outside of the playoff picture. Fortunately, like Michelangelo’s Entombment, that picture is unfinished, which means that any panic at the moment is premature. I prefer, to paraphrase the great Eddie Izzard, mature panic or even post-mature. Wise, learned man panic.
After all, the Canucks have been playing pretty well, even during their recent 5-game losing streak. They out-shot the Dallas Stars, for instance, by a 43-to-23 margin and were unluckily (and unjustly) limited to just one goal. While the Canucks absolutely need to start converting more of their chances, particularly on the power play, the fact remains that continuing to out-shoot teams the way they are should lead to success in the future.
When it comes to predicting future success, the current go-to statistic for the advanced statistic community is Fenwick Close, which refers to unblocked shot attempt differential at even-strength in situations where the score is close. In 2012, for example, the Los Angeles Kings were one of the best teams in the NHL in this statistic, belying their 8th place finish, and they steamrolled through the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup.
This year’s Canucks are currently 6th in the NHL by this measure, suggesting they’re a lot better than their record would indicate. Given enough time, the type of dominant puck possession the Canucks have had this season should lead to out-scoring their opponents more often than not. In most cases, out-scoring opponents leads to wins, and getting enough of those generally takes care of the whole “making the playoffs” thing.
Fenwick Close only covers even-strength, however, and one of the biggest concerns for the Canucks has been the powerplay, which is only converting at 11.3%, 28th in the NHL. Time to panic? Not really.
According to ExtraSkater.com, the Canucks have averaged 65.7 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 time, which is second in the NHL behind only the San Jose Sharks. The problem is converting those shots into goals, as the Canucks have a shooting percentage of just 5.7% on the powerplay — last in the league. The upside is that shooting percentage is incredibly unlikely to continue being that bad.
Even the worst shooting percentage in the league at 5-on-4 last season, the Buffalo Sabres’ 9.5%, was significantly better than the Canucks’ shooting percentage this season. If the Canucks scored on even 9.5% of their shots while on the power play, given the number of shots they average, their power play percentage would be, by my rough calculations, around 21%, which would place them in the top ten in the league.
Much has been made of the New York Rangers’ struggles on the power play under John Tortorella, but last season their problem wasn’t converting on their shots — it was getting the shots in the first place. The Rangers were 26th in the league in shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-4. The Canucks’ power play is far superior to that of the Rangers last season. It’s just not getting the results, due to a mixture of bad luck, exceptional goaltending, and one bogus goaltender interference call.
Once the goals start coming, the Canucks should be in good shape: they have yet to lose in regulation this season when scoring more than one goal. That’s largely thanks to the work of Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack.
The Canucks’ two goaltenders haven’t lit up the league statistically, but have been good enough to win when given goal support. Luongo has allowed more than two goals against just once in his last ten starts, while Eddie Lack only gave up more than two goals in his first ever NHL start.
Since this is the Canucks we’re talking about, if you can’t panic about the goaltending, then there really can’t be any good reason to panic.
Besides, it’s November, which means the only Vancouver teams that should be worrying about the playoffs are the Whitecaps and Lions, which means nobody in Vancouver should be worried about the playoffs, because those two teams aren’t in them.
So don’t panic just yet. Wait until at least December.
This feature takes a moment to recognize the best tweets of the week, because we’re online-type writers and Twitter is an online-type thing. If you see a great Canucks-related tweet, send us a link. Or plagiarize it and bask in its glory.
Sharks PP looks unreal, just imagine if they had Hamhuis on it.
— Taj (@taj1944) November 15, 2013
Your sarcasm is not appreciated here. Yes it is. Bronze medal!
Also can’t stop thinking about how I came so so close to having the greatest mayor in the world. Can’t have it all I guess
— Strombone (@strombone1) November 19, 2013
Roberto Luongo makes the best Rob Ford joke of the day. No small accomplishment.
#Canucks Weise on music in room: ‘I chose techno to pump guys up. Kassian called it Techno Tuesday. Then I had to tell him it was Monday.’
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) November 18, 2013
Listen, Weise, Kassian’s got enough to learn without having to worry about the days of the week. Humour him.Tags: Panic, The Paper Feature