One of the most popular posts I’ve written on Pass it to Bulis was the straight-forwardly titled “Chris Higgins scores goals, has abs.” I assume the abs are still there, but the goalscoring has all but disappeared.
Higgins has gone 15 games without a goal and has just one goal in his last 28 games. Since joining the Canucks, Higgins has regularly scored at or near a pro-rated 20 goals each season, though never quite hitting that mark due to missed games. This season, he has just 7 goals, on pace for a 9-goal season.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to a fair bit of criticism from Canucks fans, with many calling for him to be traded and questioning why he remains in the lineup when other players get scratched for lack of production.
Here’s the thing: despite the lack of goals, Higgins is still tied for fourth on the Canucks in points, behind only Radim Vrbata and the Sedins. While his goalscoring has dried up, Higgins dug a little deeper and found an untapped well of playmaking this season.
His assists have generally gone unnoticed, however, with the criticisms of his play continuing even while he was in the midst of a 5-game point streak in mid-February, all assists. While he’s been inconsistent with his point production, his overall season has been surprisingly solid
Higgins is tied for second on the Canucks with Daniel Sedin for assists per 60 minutes at even-strength. He’s also second on the team in primary assists at even-strength, just two behind Daniel with 10. Yes, he has more primary assists at even-strength this season than Henrik Sedin.
Even if you add in the power play, where Higgins has been a part of the generally-ineffective second power play unit, he still comes out as tied for third on the team with Radim Vrbata in primary assists.
No one is going to confuse Higgins for Henrik any time soon and his main contribution to the team is still his ability to drive possession, not his vision or passing, but taking a look at a few of the assists he’s dished out this season might catch you by surprise.
Let’s start with an assist from early in the season against the Capitals:
This is a great little touch pass to Nick Bonino to set up a 2-on-1, which Bonino finishes with a perfectly-placed wristshot.
In early November he had a two-assist game against the Avalanche, both primary assists on Bonino goals. Here’s the first one:
That’s a heads-up pass in a situation where Higgins could have shot. Instead, he slides the puck under a defender’s stick to give Bonino a tap-in.
At the end of November, there’s this lovely little pass on a well-executed give-and-go with Alex Burrows against the Blue Jackets:
Here’s one of his rare power play assists, this one against the Sabres:
That’s some great vision from Higgins, spotting Yannick Weber trailing the play and hooking the pass between two penalty killers.
This is his prettiest assist of the season. If you only press play on one of these videos, make it this one:
Ridiculous. This between-the-legs blind backhand pass to Radim Vrbata is just unreal, the type of pass we might expect from one of the Sedins.
Finally, there’s his most recent assist, setting up Shawn Matthias against the Blues.
The key to this assist is that he starts a leg kick, which would normally indicate a shot. Then, just as the defender sweeps his stick across hoping to disrupt the shot attempt, Higgins saucers the puck to Matthias.
These are just a couple of the nicer assists from this season, with the majority of his assists just coming from his typical hard work along the boards and on the forecheck, creating turnovers and getting the puck to his linemates.
Higgins remains a solid puck possession forward, with his most frequent linemates — Nick Bonino, Alex Burrows, and Linden Vey — all posting significantly better corsi percentages with him than they do without him. When you keep the puck in the right end of the rink the way Higgins does, points should follow.
Higgins is currently on pace for the most assists of his career, while potentially scoring the fewest goals of his career. His lowest goal total was 8 in a season split between the Rangers and Flames. As to that, it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s on pace for half his usual goal total in his time with the Canucks; his shooting percentage is a paltry 5%, less than half of his career shooting percentage heading into the season.
If he had shot at his career 10.1 shooting percentage this season, he’d have 14 goals by now, on pace for 19 on the season. While some may argue that he’s simply not playing as well as previous seasons, some of that shooting percentage just comes down to dumb luck and, over time, his shooting percentage is likely to regress and he’ll start getting the bounces again.
In the meantime, he’s still helping the team significantly with his ability to drive possession and, surprisingly, his ability to set up his linemates for goals.Tags: Chris Higgins