By Thomas Drance
Before Vancouver met San Jose in the first round of the 2013 postseason, I’d looked over the data and concluded what pretty much everyone else had as well, that the series would be extraordinarily tight.
Despite the 2-0 hole the Canucks find themselves going into Sunday’s Game 3 in San Jose, I think it’s safe to say that this series has been every bit as closely contested as we’d expected. A bounce or two the other way and Vancouver is headed to San Jose up 2-0 in the series.
Obviously that’s not how this series has played out so far. The Canucks will head into Game 3 looking to become just the nineteenth team in NHL history to come back in a series in which they lost their first two contests at home. While the Canucks face long odds, there are a few reasons to think they have a shot at pulling this off annnnnd there are a few reasons to be concerned. With that in mind, let’s delve into some key numbers from the first two games of the series.
61.9% - In the first two games of the series, the Canucks controlled 61.9% of all shot attempts at even-strength. That’s a thoroughly dominant number, especially when you consider that the club has also managed to translate their possession of the puck into an edge in even-strength shots (they’ve outshot the Sharks 51 to 41 through two games).
Dominating puck possession will be insufficient solace to Canucks fans if the team drops another two games in this series, I’m sure. But the point worth making here is that the Canucks have been the better five-on-five team and if that carries over to games three and four in San Jose, the Sharks are going to have a very difficult time getting that fourth win in this series.
49.7% - On the road in one goal games this season the San Jose Sharks took 49.7% of all unblocked shots. A quick note on “game stats,” I like to use the events in a one goal game (or a score close situation) as a way of measuring real team quality because it eliminates some of the noise from, say, a team giving their fourth-liners a whole whack of minutes while playing in a defensive shell up three goals in the third period.
54.8% - That’s the percentage of unblocked shots the Sharks took in close games at home this season. In other words, it’s not a slam-dunk that the Canucks will carry their dominant five-on-five play with them to the Shark Tank this week.
14 - The Sharks power-play has looked obscenely dangerous throughout this series, and they’ve managed to generate fourteen shots on goal against the Canucks when they’ve enjoyed the man-advantage. In total the Sharks have spent 14 minutes and 30 seconds at five-on-four in this series, so they’re generating shots for at a rate of nearly a shot per minute. The Sharks power-play generates shots for at the most efficient clip of any team in the league this past year, and so far in this series they’ve demonstrated that against Vancouver’s very good power-play.
4 – In over eight minutes of power-play ice-time during Friday night’s game, the Sharks only managed four shots against Roberto Luongo. Consider that on Wednesday the Sharks managed ten power-play shots on six and a half minutes of ice-time to give you an idea of how much stingier Vancouver’s penalty-kill was in Game 2.
Whatever adjustments Newell Brown and the Vancouver coaching staff made to Vancouver’s penalty-kill, they paid off in a big way in Game 2. That Vancouver’s penalty-killers continue to make Roberto Luongo’s life as easy as possible when the team finds themselves down a man is going to be critical if the Canucks hope to claw their way back into this series.
47.5% - Through two games the Canucks have struggled somewhat in the faceoff circle, winning only 47.5% of the draws they’ve taken. The San Jose Sharks were the best team by face-off percentage in the league during the 48 game 2013 hockey season, so this might be a number the Canucks struggle to improve on over the balance of the season.
Faceoff wins are critical in a game of control and limited space like hockey is. They’re especially critical for a team that is done in the series and finds themselves without much of any margin for error.
57.4% – Through two games, Ryan Kesler has not been among the Vancouver centreman struggling in the face-off circle. Look for him to take a mammoth number of draws in all three zones over the balance of this series.
41.3% - The faceoff percentage of every Canucks centreman not named Ryan Kesler in the first two games of the postseason. This is an area the Canucks desperately need to improve if they hope to advance to Round 2 of the playoffs.
17:15 – Dan Hamhuis’ average even-strength ice-time through two games this postseason. That’s down fifty-one seconds from his average even-strength ice-time during the regular season. Usually once the postseason rolls around, a team tends to lean more heavily on their best defensive defenceman. So far the Canucks have gone in the opposite direction.
With the series transitioning from home-ice to the unfriendly confines of the Shark Tank this week, expect Dan Hamhuis’ ice-time increase precipitously.
.866 – Antti Niemi’s save percentage on “difficult shots” so far this period. A difficult shot is a stat that I record by hand using the same criteria we use for scoring chance data collection over at CanucksArmy.com. Basically a “difficult shot” is a scoring chance that is also a shot on goal. The usual baseline for an “elite” difficult shot save percentage is .850 and so far in this series Niemi has surpassed that. The Canucks outshot and outplayed the Sharks for vast stretches of games one and two at home, but they lost both contest in part because of Niemi’s superlative performance in the first two games of the series.
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