When John Tortorella was hired, he made it clear that he was going to ride his top players hard. The Sedins would play big minutes in all situations, including the penalty kill, he promised and assured everyone that the twins could handle the extra workload. He emphasized conditioning at the beginning of training camp and played his first line upwards of 23 minutes a night early on in the season.
There were dissenting voices among fans and the media early on, insisting that this was an Eastern Conference point of view that just wouldn’t work with the heavier travel of a Western Conference team, particularly Vancouver, which generally faces some of the toughest travel in the league. The Sedins would get run down, the oft-injured Ryan Kesler would break down, and the defence would get fatigued and sloppy.
Now, it appears that they were right. The Canucks look tired, at least one Sedin is injured, and usually-reliable defencemen have made highly noticeable errors. The high-energy forecheck that was so common at the beginning of the season has lost its jump and even the penalty kill looks weary and lethargic. Most damning of all is how the Canucks have performed in third periods, as they appear to simply run out of gas in the final frame.
But that’s just what appears to be the case. I wanted to see if there was some way to look at fatigue statistically, to see if the numbers back up what we’re seeing, particularly in the third period. From what I found, it appears that fatigue could be a legitimate explanation for the Canucks’ struggles, but I found some other interesting results that call that explanation into question.
The simplest way I could think of to test this theory is to look at how the Canucks have performed in each period on a game-by-game basis. I took the shots and goals for and against in the first, second, and third periods of each game and looked to see if there was any pattern. I was particularly interested in looking at shots, partly because goals are far more dependent on bounces and luck, but mainly because, by the eye test, the Canucks have struggled to even get shots on net late in games.
If fatigue as as big a factor as is claimed, we should expect to see a major decline in the third period over the course of the season. At the beginning of the season, third periods should be about as strong as the first and second periods, as fatigue should not have set in yet. Meanwhile, over the course of the season, the first period should remain fairly strong throughout, while second periods may decline slightly.
If this is not the case — if, say, all three periods decline equally or if we get some other result — then we could perhaps look to reasons other than fatigue, such as systems, luck, or injuries, to explain the Canucks’ struggles in January. My assumptions in this regard could be flawed, of course. Perhaps fatigue would impact the Canucks in a different way.
There are some weaknesses to this methodology. I found no simple way to take game state into account, so this includes power plays and penalty kills which can skew shot and goal totals. It also ignores score effects: the team trailing in a game tends to out-shoot their opposition. Also, since it includes only shots and goals, it is not as large a sample size as what Corsi or Fenwick would provide, but I had no way of splitting Corsi and Fenwick by period over the course of the season.
Here’s the breakdown by month:
The first thing that jumps out at me is the shot totals from December and January. For all the fuss over the third period collapses in January, the Canucks were just as bad at giving up shots in the third in December. The difference is that the Canucks out-scored their opposition by 8 in the third period in December, but have been out-scored by 15 in the third in January.
There wasn’t much fuss kicked up about third period struggles and fatigue when the bounces were going the Canucks way despite being out-shot. Going 10-1-2 in a month covers over a multitude of sins.
They were nearly as bad in the third period in October, getting outshot by 21. In fact, the only month where they weren’t outshot in the third period was in November and there was still a massive drop-off from the second to the third period.
This is an interesting result: is fatigue to blame for the Canucks’ third period struggles as early as the start of the season or should we look elsewhere for an explanation? It does make sense that players who are seeing upwards of 23 minutes per game would see their play fall off in the third period, but right from the start of the season when their legs should be fresh?
The other number that really jumps out from this chart is how well the Canucks played in the second period in November, out-shooting their opponents by 70 shots. Amazingly, they out-scored their opponents by just 9 goals, just one more than in the third period in December, when they were out-shot by 31.
Even the Canucks second period dominance has fallen into an abyss, as they have been out-shot by 30 in the second period in January and out-scored by 6.
Separating the season by months is fairly arbitrary, however, so i put together a chart that shows the Canucks’ shots for and against by period as 10-game rolling averages. This shows how the Canucks have performed in each period in any given 10-game stretch of the season:
The Canucks shots for and against in the first period have seen a fairly steady decline over the course of the season. While fatigue could be a factor, it seems like it wouldn’t have as strong an effect in the first period.. The second period has seen a couple spikes in effectiveness throughout the season before crashing in January, but is now trending slightly up.
The third period is where we’re most interested and it’s interesting to see that, for the most part, it’s been far worse than the first and second periods throughout the entire season. The exception is in a brief stretch around the end of November, which included strong performances against the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, along with a couple wallopings of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators.
Interestingly, all three periods have averaged around the same in shots for and against over the last 10 games. That’s mostly a bad thing, as the Canucks strong first and second periods from the start of the season have become thoroughly mediocre, while the third periods are just getting a little less bad.
It’s truly tough to say whether fatigue is the main factor in the Canucks’ declining play, since the third period has been an issue all season and the Canucks’ first periods have also seen a decline. I’d be tempting to point more in the direction of injuries, with players like Alex Edler, Alex Burrows, Ryan Stanton, Henrik Sedin, and Mike Santorelli all missing significant time in December and January, but with Santorelli gone for the season after shoulder surgery and further injuries to Chris Tanev and Kevin Bieksa cropping up, that’s not exactly an encouraging prospect.
In any case, injuries are often blamed on fatigue as well, so that does little to clarify the issue at hand.
It will be interesting to look at this as the season continues. If fatigue is to blame, we’ll likely see a continued downward trend, whereas if this is simply a slump, the Canucks’ shot and goal totals in the first and second period, at the very least, should improve. Unfortunately, there’s little reason to be optimistic about the third period for Canucks fans. Whether it’s fatigue or some other reason, the third period has been atrocious all season.Tags: Charts, Statistics, Stats