In the Early Going, Canucks’ Losses Are As Encouragaging As Their Wins


While there was genuine optimism and excitement around the fan-base when the Canucks began the season 3-0, there was also a bit of an asterisk attached to those wins. “Sure, but those were the Alberta teams,” went the refrain. “Let’s wait to see how they do against stronger competition.” Then, to the chagrin of many, the Canucks went up against stronger competition, in the form of the Lightning and the Stars, and promptly got their butts handed to them, 4-2, and then 6-3, getting doubled-up twice in a row.

Do these results mean that the Canucks can’t hold their own against the true playoff contenders? Thankfully, nah. Probably not at least. It’s still early, but an examination of the early data we have actually shows that, while the competition was pretty even between the teams, the Canucks might have actually been the better team in both of those tough luck losses.

Let’s start with the Lightning game first. Aside from a couple flukey shots from some scrub named Stamkos, the Canucks actually controlled play effectively right from the puck drop. In fact, it was only a minor mental error in the middle of a dominant Sedin shift that hemmed the Lightning in their own zone, that allowed Stamkos to rush in and score on the first shot Eddie Lack saw this season.

And, overall, thanks to these awesome graphs and charts from Natural Stat Trick, we can see that as a team, the Canucks actually out-chanced the Lightning from the first period all the way through to the end of the game. Score effects (the tendency for trailing teams to generate more shots, as teams with a lead are generally less aggressive and more permissive) account for a bit of their dominance at the end of the game, but for the most part, even when the score was close, the Canucks more than held their own against the Lightning for a final Corsi For% of 59% and a Fenwick For of 56%. And this is on the second night of a back-to-back, when the rested Lightning had already been in town the night before, scouting and napping in preparation.

One argument against the Canucks is that they should have done a better job of containing Stamkos, as a player of his caliber will do a lot to mask his team’s inefficiencies during a game, and that’s a fair point to make. But at the same time, I think if the Canucks play this same game 82 times in a row, their bad luck evens out, and they come away with a victory the majority of the time.

Which leads us to…

The nightmare game in Dallas.

In my humble opinion, the Canucks played maybe the best game of 3-6 hockey you’ll see. Far from being the blowout it looks like on paper, this whole game belonged in a certain series penned under a Daniel Handler pseudonym. I’m not going to bother reliving the specifics, but let’s just say that looking at these charts is a whole lot more comforting than watching anything that made the highlight reel in this game. Which is why hockey is such a funny game, sometimes.

Sure, when you look at the final Corsi For% of 59%, and you see that the Canucks controlled over 60% of the chances in the third, you realize that it’s a classic example of Dallas sitting back during a blowout; however, if you look at the chart beginning to end, there is no point where the Canucks didn’t out-chance Dallas or control the flow of play, even when it was early and close(r). In fact, there were multiple times the Canucks made the Stars’ look sloppy, and Lehtonen had to be the only guy on the raft bailing out the water. A lot of people use this as an argument against counting chances like this: a lot becomes voided if a goalie outplays the team in front of him. Over a larger sample, though, there’s no way Lehtonen’s save percentage would be able to sustain a barrage like this over a full season.

As an example of irony, for our final comparison, take the game last night against the Blues: the Canucks walk away 4-1 and everybody is cheering a return to form. However, the Canucks ended up badly out-shot, especially late in the 3rd period when the score was still tied and the game was still on the line. They ended that game with a much more brutal 37% Corsi For, meaning that if we roll this game out over an 82-game stretch, it would probably look like the Dallas game’s score more often than not. And yet, that’s the game that snaps our skid and gets us the two points. Go figure, right?

Overall, my point is, while it can be discouraging to see your team get destroyed on the score board two nights in a row, during their first real stiff test of competition, there are a lot of positives to take away from this team early. Just because they got outscored, doesn’t mean they got outplayed, and if their performances in their two losses so far this year are an indication of what we can expect from this team, expect a lot more wins in the future.

More from The Canuck Way