Big Numbers: Canucks can’t score, but killing it shorthanded

Every now and then we like to take a break from all the words and just post some numbers. And some words describing the numbers, as otherwise it would just be a whole bunch of numbers with no context, which would be really weird. Big Numbers is a weekly feature on Pass it to Bulis in which we identify the numbers and statistics that really matter or, frequently, the ones that don’t matter at all but are still pretty interesting.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 0, Stars 2

I had a soccer game last Sunday and, with our regular goaltender on holiday, I was called upon to play in net. We were short a player, so, playing with only 10 men, I had to make a lot of saves.

I was playing very well, making a diving stop here, a point blank kick save there, giving my team a chance. Then, near the end of the first half, the other team had a corner kick. The player mis-kicked it, sending it too close to the near post. It was easy for me to jump up and grab it before it could go anywhere dangerous. The ball hit my hands and I landed on my feet, ready to send my team the other way.

And the ball slipped out.

I don’t even know how it happened. One moment the ball was in my hands, the next it was on the ground and I was scrambling to grab it, only to have one of their players get his foot in and kick it across the line. It was devastating to have a good performance suddenly turn into a catastrophe. I felt like I let my team down, like all the saves I made in the rest of the game were rendered null and void.

In short, I know exactly how Eddie Lack feels right now. I felt his pain when I watched this game.

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Finding shooting lanes and blocking shots: a breakdown of the Canucks’ possession statistics

An off-handed comment by Steve Burtch, who writes about analytics for Sportsnet and developed dCorsi, got me thinking about how we look at advanced statistics when judging teams. Essentially, he suggested that looking at “combined” statistics like corsi percentage or fenwick percentage was doing a disservice to the data and that it’s more useful to look at a team or player’s corsi for and against separately, as it provides more information.

This seemed to me to be an interesting point, though I still feel there’s value in combining metrics. After all, the point of hockey isn’t to score or prevent goals, but to out-score the opponent, so looking at just for and against by themselves doesn’t capture the entire picture.

It’s useful, though, to see how a team is getting to their totals, whether it’s via low-event, defensive play or high-octane offence, or somewhere in between. So, I decided to look at the Canucks’ corsi and fenwick statistics both for and against and see where they rank league-wide, to see if it would shed some light on the Canucks’ performance this season. Quite frankly, I was surprised by the results.

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Stick in Link: Vrbata rejoins Sedins, Sbisa and Bieksa split

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 14: Assigning Blame and Black Messiah

The Canucks are on a downswing, losing four straight, with their latest loss to the New York Rangers arguably their worst game of the season. This means it’s time to start throwing blame around.

We assign blame to Ryan Miller, Jim Benning, Willie Desjardins, Luca Sbisa, Kevin Bieksa, the defence as a whole, the forwards, and even us. Yes, it’s our fault. We are all Canucks, so we are all equally to blame.

Really, things aren’t quite as bad as they look and, just as we advised caution in getting to excited when the Canucks were at their peak, we advise patience now that they’re in a valley.

Before all that, we talk about D’Angelo’s new album, “Black Messiah”, and the new trend of releasing albums without any hype or buildup.

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No go for Bo; Canucks confirm Horvat won’t be released to play for Team Canada

Three weeks ago, the Canucks let Bo Horvat know he wouldn’t be sent back down to Junior, with Willie Desjardins giving him a literal “Welcome to the NHL” moment. The welcome came just before his ninth game and it must have been a relief for Horvat to know it wouldn’t be his last this season.

There was still a possibility, however, that Horvat wouldn’t play every game for the Canucks; the World Junior Championship is just over a week away and Horvat would be a major addition to Team Canada, potentially even playing with Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen on the second line.

We’ll have to wait until at least next season to see Horvat and Virtanen play together, as the Canucks announced that Horvat will not be released to participate for Team Canada in the World Junior Championship.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 1, Rangers 5

This was truly a night to remember for the Canucks, as it was the shortest game in franchise history, over in less than 7 minutes. Remember this time: 6 minutes and 46 seconds, because that’s when the final horn blew in this game and everyone went home. Those hoping to beat traffic had already left 3 minutes earlier, as it was clear the Canucks weren’t going to get back into this one.

Except for that one piece of trivia that you’ll be able to astound your friends with for years to come, you’ll likely want to forget this game ever happened. As short as it was, it was also incredibly painful to watch. But I watched it, along with the following several hours of dead air the CBC was showing for no reason whatsoever. Yes, I watched this game.

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The Paper Feature: Christmas gift ideas for the Canuck in your life

You have likely already started your Christmas shopping — in fact, you may be almost done — but we all have that one hard-to-shop-for person in our lives. For some of us, it’s that one uncle with ever-changing tastes or a sister who seems to have no discernible hobbies or interests. For others, it’s a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

We can all relate to that, right? What do you get for the man who has everything, including the adoration of hordes of hockey fans and a multi-million dollar contract? Don’t worry, PITB is here for you, with gift ideas for the Canuck on your list.

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Willie Desjardins finally turns on the line blender, because it’s the right time to do so

Through 29 games, Willie Desjardins has been remarkably patient. Even during the pre-season, Desjardins put together line combinations that he thought made sense and stuck with them. Apart from injuries and a few isolated moments when players got bumped up or down lines during a game, the Canucks’ lines have generally remained consistent.

That changed at practice Friday morning, as Desjardins made wholesale changes to the lineup, with only the third line staying the same. His patient approach paid off early in the season, as when one line went cold, another stepped up until it heated up again, but now is certainly the right time to make changes, and not just because the Canucks are coming off a three-game losing streak.

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Stick in Link: Horvat could still play for Team Canada; 7-game road trips are too long

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Ryan Miller hasn’t been as good (or bad) as people think

Ryan Miller presents a fascinating conundrum for Canucks fans. On the one hand, he’s second in the NHL in wins and has had some truly exceptional games, including three shutouts. On the other hand, he’s had some truly horrible games and his overall numbers are well below league-average.

It’s tough to know what to make of Miller, which has led to arguments among Canucks fans throughout the province and on social media. Just how good has Miller been? It’s hard to complain about a goaltender with a 16-6-0 record, but there’s also no denying that his statistics are a concern.

One reason it’s been difficult to assess Miller is how extreme his results have been. When he’s been good, he’s been very good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been horrible. Those horrible games, therefore, skew his numbers significantly. But, since he’s been good far more often than he’s been bad, there’s an argument to be made that his save percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. After all, what you really want from a goaltender is for him to give your team a chance to win in as many games as possible.

Has Miller given the Canucks a chance to win more often than not? His record suggests yes, but let’s take a closer look at the numbers using a goaltending metric known as Quality Starts.

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The Prospector: Forsling makes Team Sweden roster, Virtanen scores a beautiful goal

The Prospector is a semi-regular feature on Pass it to Bulis where we pan the Canucks prospects pool in search of gold.

This time around, we look at Gustav Forsling, Patrick McNally, Jordan Subban, and Jake Virtanen.

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 13: Goaltending Controversies and Christmas Trees

The Canucks headed into this weekend on a high, having just shutout the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then they crashed and burned against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, causing consternation in Canucks nation.

We discuss those two games, questioning whether Stephane Robidas should have received a suspension for his elbow to the head of Shawn Matthias, Radim Vrbata’s filthy goal on Craig Anderson, Derek Dorsett’s fight against Chris Neil, and Brad Richardson’s unexpected point streak.

We also talk about the elephant in the room: the goaltending. Is it okay to call it a controversy? Should Eddie Lack get more starts? How much leeway should Ryan Miller get for his wins? Is this all just media hype?

Before all that, we share stories of Christmas trees and destroyed ornaments.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Senators 4 (OT)

There are plenty of excuses for the Canucks performance against the Senators. They’re on the sixth game of a seven-game road trip. it’s the second game of back-to-backs. The officiating was lousy. The team is committed to avoiding a goaltending controversy. The forwards stayed up late last night binge-listening to “Serial.” The defence ate some bad chicken before the game. The Canadian Tire Centre is haunted by the ghost of the Sens Spartan.

Some of those excuses are certainly a little more valid than the others. Heck, some of them are even true. But none of them adequately explain just how poor the Canucks were defensively in this game. There’s no getting around it: it was an ugly showing and would have been uglier if Eddie Lack hadn’t stolen a point by making 41 saves in regulation to get the game to overtime.

I got increasingly frustrated when I watched this game.

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Game of the Week: Canucks vs Canadiens, December 9th

A Saturday night game on Hockey Night in Canada against an Original Six franchise is normally something to get excited about and would be an easy pick for Game of the Week. Unfortunately, it’s against the Toronto Maple Leafs and it just hasn’t been easy to get hyped up about a game against the Leafs in recent years.

Even seeing former Canucks on the other side of the ice isn’t as meaningful, as one of them is Mike Santorelli, who didn’t even play a full season in Vancouver, and the other is David Booth, whose fans in Vancouver are few and far between.

There is, however, one matchup against an Original Six franchise this week that holds a little more promise.

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Real Good Tweets, starring @mammamialack and a baby penguin

You folks made some good tweets last week. Some real good tweets.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Penguins 0

Eddie Lack hadn’t started a game since November 20th and had just had a planned start sniped out from under him by Ryan Miller, albeit for supposedly altruistic reasons. That left Lack to make his first start in two weeks against Sidney Crosby and the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins.

It might have been too much for a goaltender with less mental fortitude, but Lack has never been one to get overwhelmed. Clearly, he was raised right.

Sure enough, Lack’s mother, Mia, showed where her son’s easy sense of humour and calm demeanour came from, tweeting out her encouragement to her son, posting a picture of a baby penguin and saying there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Adorable. Lack backed up his mamma’s words, proving that penguins are no match for a stork, posting his first shutout of the season. I watched this game.

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Stick in Link: Eddie Lack starts against Penguins; recapping November

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Big Numbers: Identical twin totals and special teams breakdown

Every now and then we like to take a break from all the words and just post some numbers. And some words describing the numbers, as otherwise it would just be a whole bunch of numbers with no context, which would be really weird. Big Numbers is a weekly feature on Pass it to Bulis in which we identify the numbers and statistics that really matter or, frequently, the ones that don’t matter at all but are still pretty interesting.

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Canucks fans are steering clear of All-Star voting

The NHL released the early results of all-star voting on Tuesday, two weeks after the polls opened. Most of the hubbub since has been focussed on 20-year-old Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, who topped all players with 399,356 votes, nearly double the votes of the next best forward, Sidney Crosby.

The sophomore centre has gotten a massive boost from his home country of Latvia, who have some of the most fanatical fans in the hockey world, not to mention Sabres fans desperate for some sign of positivity from their team. Girgensons leads the Sabres in goalscoring and is one of just three Sabres with a positive plus/minus.

Girgensons showing up on the top of the voting results is the obvious, visible story. Less obvious is the players who are not on the list. The Vancouver Canucks have the fifth best record in the NHL, the fourth best goals-per-game, have two players in the top-20 in league scoring, and one tied for 11th in goalscoring. But the only Canuck that shows up in the voting totals is Alex Edler, who received 5% of the votes that Girgensons received.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4, Capitals 3

Ryan Miller lobbied to start this game, arguing that it would potentially be a tough start for Eddie Lack since the Canucks had the day off on Monday and Lack hadn’t been playing. While that logic seems shakier than Miller’s game against the Red Wings, Willie Desjardins thought it was a good point, so gave Miller the start.

Here’s the thing: if you argue to start a game that your backup was supposed to get, you better back up that argument with a strong game. Instead, Miller was merely mediocre, making a couple decent stops, but allowing a couple weak goals. At some point, his shakiness is going to become a problem, but it wasn’t one tonight because the Canucks were able to outscore Miller’s mistakes and he held off the Capitals late in the third period.

Or maybe it will never be a problem. Maybe the shakiness will go away or the Canucks will continue to rack up enough goals that the goaltending becomes a moot point. Though that’s a pretty lousy nickname: Ryan “Moot Point” Miller. I watched this game.

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The top five Canucks moustaches of Movember

The Vancouver Canucks might have lost their Movember challenge with the Montreal Canadiens, but they still grew some outstanding moustaches. They may not have been amazingly pretty, but in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, they were pretty amazing.

I’m speaking in past tense, because it is now December. November is over, thus Movember is over, and most Movember participants divest themselves of their trashy staches as soon as humanly possible. Five Canucks took part in growing flavour-savers to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. Tonight against the Washington Capitals, they’re all likely to be bare-faced, which is nowhere near as cool as being bear-faced.

Now that Movember is over, it’s time to rate and rank the Canucks’ moustaches, because what’s the point of a charitable event if you can’t judge someone’s appearance in the process?

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 12: Ryan Miller and Barney the Purple Dinosaur

Ryan Miller may be second in the NHL in wins, but his other statistics are pretty terrible, largely because of how he’s struggled in his few losses. How much should we worry about Miller and his Jekyll and Hyde performance this year?

Daniel and Harrison try to answer that question and also talk about Shawn Matthias’s improvement of late, the importance of Linden Vey’s play at even-strength, the pairing of Luca Sbisa and Kevin Bieksa, and Jake Virtanen being named to Team Canada’s selection camp for the World Junior Championship.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Red Wings 5

These afternoon starts in the Eastern Conference seem to always be disastrous for the Canucks. The team is already a little out-of-sorts with the different time zone, so moving the start time of the game really throws off the regular routine. It’s a pain for most Canucks fans too, who have to deal with the non-standard start time in a variety of ways, such as actually waking up on a Sunday.

It’s toughest on the devoted Canucks fans who are also devout Protestants, having to choose between Sunday morning church or cheering on the Canucks. It turns out that God isn’t fond of these early Sunday games either, smiting the game just 29 seconds in, causing a transformer to blow. Joe Louis Arena was formless and void and darkness was on the surface of the ice.

Someone’s got to let God know about PVR. I watched this game.

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Canucks of the Week, starring Jannik Hansen and the New Jersey Devils

Canucks of the Week, written by Kevin Vanstone, examines who and what is keeping hockey in Vancouver interesting these days. That’s right: who and what. It need not only be players. After all, we are all Canucks. All people, places, things, abstract concepts, ideas, emotions — if it’s a noun, proper or common, it’s a Canuck, and it’s eligible to be a Canuck of the week.

This week’s top Canucks are Jannik Hansen, Willie Desjardins, and the New Jersey Devils.

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