Monday, May 03, 2010

Big Numbers: Playoff Stats Of Which You Might Not Be Aware

There's more game day Canucks coverage to come today on Pass it to Bulis!, but I thought I might start off your morning with some statistics that might fill you with joy, bookended with stats about our boy Ryan Kesler, who is quietly having an incredible playoffs.

1. Ryan Kesler has eight points in seven games. That's a point-a-game pace for the second line center, who leads Canucks forwards in ice time with 21.49 a game. Give Alain Vigneault credit for sticking with the same ice time model he used during the regular season: Ryan Kesler gets more ice time per game than the Sedins. It's beyond intelligent. First, Kesler is no slouch on offense, as his point a game pace suggests, so the Canucks don't lapse into a solely defensive shell when he's on the ice. Furthermore, AV's best players don't need to monopolize ice time to monopolize the box score, so he doesn't make them. It means the Sedins are far better rested than the top line defenseman defending them going into the third period. Speaking of which:

2. Daniel Sedin had six points in six third periods during the Los Angeles series. That's right. In the LAK series, he was a point a game player in third periods alone. This might explain why the Canucks have won every game in which they've been trailing after the first period. It's only happened twice, but, come on, what a confidence boost. We already discussed this stat a little during the first point, so as for an explanation, I think it's probably in the expert allocation of minutes from the coaching staff. We can also see this in defensive ice time. Take a look.

3. The Canucks are the only team without a single defenseman averaging over 25 minutes a game, and this speaks to defensive depth. (According to the stat sheet, MTL's Markov is only averaging twenty-three minutes, but his stats are heavily skewed by leaving early in the first period of the series opener with Pittsburgh. That game aside, he's averaging nearly 28.) Now, The Canucks d-core has been much-maligned since the loss of Mitchell and the acquisition of Alberts, but AV has trusted all six players to carry the weight, and the Canucks have done well. In case you're wondering, Alex Edler is leading the team, at 24.09 per game, with Christian Ehrhoff only five seconds behind. All of the Canucks' top four--Edler, Ehrhoff, Salo, Bieksa--are averaging over twenty minutes a game, but, again, none more than twenty-five. I submit that, while the Canucks lack a top-pairing defenseman of the high order some other teams have, they have among the most balanced top four in the league, which each player capable of making a strong breakout pass, playing the point on the power play and jumping into the rush. Keep in mind that, while they're not overly tough, the Canucks' coaching staff doesn't really want them to be. Hits tend to take a player out of position for a quick transition, and that seems to be the Canucks' bread and butter this year. The genius of the bottom-two (O'Brien, Alberts) is that they may not be as capable of the offensive side, but they both cover the missing aspects of the Canucks' d-core, with the potential to bruise and move bodies away from the net on the power play.

4. Each of the Canucks top three centers (Sedin, Kesler, Wellwood) is over 50% in faceoffs. Among players on teams not yet eliminated, Henrik Sedin and Kyle Wellwood are third and fourth in percentage with 58.9 and 57.1 ratings, respectively, and Sedin is second only to Sidney Crosby in faceoffs won with 96. He's taken nine less. In the absence of Ryan Johnson, Sedin and Kesler are also taking the majority of short-handed faceoffs, and they're both over 50% there as well. The stat is also a big deal for Wellwood, who has proven a lot of people wrong for doubting him as a third-line center. Gord MacIntyre agrees. He's dependable at both ends of the ice, works hard, and makes sure his line has the puck for most of their shift.

5. The Canucks are averaging 4.29 goals per game, best in the league. Pittsburgh sits second at 3.88, and the Chicago Blackhawks are the worst of the eight remaining at 2.57. This is a testament to the Canucks' offensive prowess, which is far and away the best in the league, judging by playoff stats alone. The Canucks have goals by 14 different players, the most of any team (although three other teams have 13). It gets even better if you just look at even-strength scoring.

6. The Canucks 5-on-5 goals for to goals against ratio is a 3.00, which is mind-blowing. The next closest team is Detroit at 1.33. In essence, the Canucks are the best team in the NHL playoffs five-on-five. This shouldn't come as a total surprise, mind you: they were second only to Washington in this stat during the regular season. Washington was at 1.57. The Canucks' current 3.00 is absolutely incredible, and it's probably the explanation for the next stat.

7. Of players still in the playoffs, the Canucks have four players in the top five for plus/minus. Edler, Samuelsson, Henrik and Daniel are first, second, third, and fifth, respectively, with Conn Smyth front-runner Joe Pavelski sitting in fourth. Edler and Samuelsson are tied for first at +9. If we expand the count to the top ten, Christian Ehrhoff and Ryan Kesler jump in at ninth and tenth, respectively.

8. The Canucks don't have a single player in the top thirty in hits. I'm serious. Alex Burrows leads the team in hits with 20, good for 35th. Steve Bernier, Alex Edler (seriously), and Shane O'Brien all come in around 5oth, with 17 apiece. Don't panic, however. This doesn't mean the Canucks are weak or small. They just haven't had to play tough in order to win. Yet. This trend can't possibly continue. Expect the Blackhawks to challenge them here as early as today.

9. Ryan Kesler is second in the league in takeaways, behind only Pavel Datsyuk. Kesler has one less giveaway, however. Keep in mind as well that Datsyuk has played two more games at this point, and that's a pretty big deal considering we're talking about nine games instead of seven. Its worth noting that all three Selke nominees are still playing in the playoffs (surprised? defense wins championships). It's hard to say he's been the best second-line center, considering what Joe Pavelski's done in San Jose, but, considering that Pavelski's scoring has made up for the lack of scoring from the big line, Kesler's just seems like some sort of super bonus.

Not too shabby, eh? Now let's be clear. As awesome as these stats are, it's over a six game sample. If the Canucks can keep it up, then we're really getting somewhere, but two or three bad games and it won't do us any good at all to cherry-pick stats, will it? Fingers crossed on a great game tonight.

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