Friday, April 22, 2011

By The Numbers

Much of the blame of the Vancouver Canucks' collapse in this series is on the shoulders of our defense and Roberto Luongo as it should be. Yet why should we be surprised by this?

If we just look at the raw stats of Game 4s, 5s and 6s of the past three seasons (albeit Game 6 has yet to be played in 2011), there is a very disturbing pattern on the backline:
Alexander Edler 1G 2A -6
Christian Ehrhoff 1G 2A -7
Kevin Bieksa 2G 4A -1
Sami Salo 1G 1A -6

Bieksa is the only one who matches up well offensively with the Chicago Blackhawks' Norris Trophy defenceman Duncan Keith. That's in the past, though, as Bieksa did not record a single point in Game 4 or 5 this year.

The Blackhawks' back end has been terrific and although Keith gets the headlines, it's really Brian Campbell who has proven his mettle in all three series. Just look at that whopping +10. Talk about your shutdown defenceman with a huge offensive contribution as well. His play alone may explain the lack of production from the Canucks' second and third lines:

Duncan Keith 3G 5A +3
Brent Seabrook 1G 1A +2
Brian Campbell 1G 7A +10

Obviously, a defenceman's plus/minus is affected by how well the goalie behind him (and the backchecking or lack of by the forwards, of course) is playing. We all know about Roberto Luongo's struggles but Chicago's rotating set of goalies (Nikolai Khabibulin in '09, Antti Niemi in '10 and now Corey Crawford in '11) prove that it's not about the big money goalies when it comes to playoff success. Over the same sets of Games 4 through 6 in '09 and '10 and Games 4 and 5 in '11 here are the save percentages:

Roberto Luongo .849 225 shots faced
Corey Schneider .905 21 shots faced

Chicago goalies .917 216 shots faced

On average Chicago has outshot Vancouver over those particular eight games by three shots a game. So it's not like the Canucks are not getting an equal share of chances, but look at the offensive output in these key latter Games 4 through 6 by the forwards who have been the core players the past three seasons.

Daniel Sedin 3G 2A -6
Henrik Sedin 1G 5A -9
Alexandre Burrows 1G 3A -3
Ryan Kesler 1G 1A -3
Mason Raymond 1G 1A -2
Mikael Samuelsson 2G 1A -5

Jonathan Toews 4G 4A +3
Patrick Kane 9G 2A +3
Patrick Sharp 3G 7A +3
Marian Hossa 2G 3A +4
David Bolland 6G 4A +4
Troy Brouwer 1G 1A +3

Obviously, we could throw in Dustin Byfuglien's production to further paint a horrid picture but we're looking at players who have played in all three series so bear with me. Now we all know Burrows and Kesler were harboring injuries in '10 but where have they been both in '09 and '11?
Don't even get me started on the over 30-year-olds in the Twinkies who are proving almost as poor in the clutch in playoffs as Markus Naslund was.

Finally, I hate talking about officiating as the majority of games are played at 5-on-5 and the whole special teams being sooooo important gets overplayed. The trouble is in some series it can be a factor and it looks like it has been in all the Canucks vs. Hawks series.
Over these particular eight games we are looking at, the powerplays for each team are 33 to 28 in Chicago's favor. Basically a half a powerplay edge per game to Chicago over the eight games. Doesn't sound like much but it really is as the Hawks scored 13 times with those man advantages in this specific game sample set. The Canucks have a paltry 7 goals on the powerplay over the same set.

So, as simple as it is to point out, we may as well: Stay out of the box and do better on the powerplay. That may be enough to swing whatever mind-meld control the Hawks have over Luongo (and his as usual slow glove hand) as well as the Canucks' top two lines weak offensive output (we won't even mention their defensive shortcomings again as that'd be piling on).

Can this team execute that simple game plan? That is the Game 6 question come Sunday because having faith in the stars' abilities to raise their collective game is something the past has shown us is not quite worth having faith in.

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