6 Facts Not Advertised in the Media About the Canucks / Bruins Match-up: NHL Playoffs 2011
1. Playing Lesser Teams <=> Larger Number of Points
Let’s begin with a few lesser-known facts about the Vancouver Canucks and their supposedly legendary season.
The Vancouver Canucks racked up a lot of points in the regular season, finishing with a whopping 117. Impressive? At first glance, yes. Yet 24 of those games were against teams within their own division. That’s just how the cookie crumbles in the NHL. Very notably, however, these 24 teams, for the Canucks, included Edmonton–the worst team in the league, Colorado–the second worst team in the league, Minnesota–21st overall, and Calgary–a team that ended with one more point overall than the New York Rangers.
2. Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo’s playoff save percentage: .922
Tim Thomas’ playoff save percentage: .929
To put this into perspective, it’s best to judge on the basis of longevity and a large enough pool for judging performance. Thomas made 560 saves, while Luongo has only had to make 487. Contrast this with the Lightning’s Dwayne Roloson, who made a total of 500 saves, many of which were against Boston. Roloson’s final save percentage in the playoffs was .924, which puts him a cut above Luongo. Let’s not forget that Luongo has also logged fewer minutes (1,075:46) than Thomas (1,124:41), whose team has trusted enough to start him in all 18 games played.
Most interestingly of all, however is the fact that Roberto Luongo’s save percentage behind the twins has fallen to a shocking .880 (Source). This could be a statistical anomaly, and Luongo might be much better now, but there is no concrete set of data to demonstrate that fact.
On the other end of the ice, the Bruins have Tim Thomas, who is capable of quite literally stealing games. Bruins fans are hoping this won’t be needed, but it’s comforting, to be sure.
In the end, we are left with the reality that Luongo is known to allow at least one softie per game. He can clearly be very good, but reliability is everything when clutch time comes around. How will he handle it?
3. Place Your Bets! (But not on Scoring Chances?)
Canuck optimism lies in the following line of reasoning: “If the Bruins had trouble scoring on the Tampa defence, what chance do they have to generate offence against the Canucks back end, which makes the Lightning group look woeful by comparison?” (Source)
Good argument. On the face of it. Gallagher offers an analytical response, which would have us think back to the game played between these two teams in the regular season:
That one was won by the Bruins right here in Vancouver for several reasons. First, the … Bruins were extremely successful in keeping Vancouver to the outside the entire game. Their big, physical team had the Canucks shooting from the outside and settling for shots from the point through a maze of players in front whenever Vancouver had the man advantage. The prevailing wisdom after the game was that eventually one of those Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, or Mikael Samuelsson rockets would make it through if the same game was repeated again and again but that sort of reasoning is pretty sketchy. Nothing got through for Tampa at even strength Friday night in a game when they were largely kept to the perimeter.
A final relevant factoid on this Matter: Boston is in first place this post-season 5-on-5 at plus-20. “The Bruins have outscored opponents, 48-29. The Canucks’ goal record at even strength is 31-31.” (Good summary in NYT)
4. Groin Injury: Kesler’s Back!
Today’s Update: Ryan Kesler is back and is expected to play but he’s thought to be dealing with a groin injury, according to NBC Sports. But is he at 100%? If not, should we care? Indeed we should.
Kesler missed part of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals due to the injury. He said he feels good, but we’d be surprised if he said anything else this deep into the playoffs. Kesler has been a huge part of the Canucks playoff run and he should be a major factor in the Stanley Cup finals, even if he isn’t 100%.
Kesler is perceived to be so important, in fact, that his presence or absence has predictions hanging:
“If Ryan Kesler plays, I can see the Canucks winning this series in six games,” said Weekes, a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, Versus and NHL Network. “But if Kesler is seriously affected by injury or has to sit out, my pick would change to the Bruins in six games. Kesler is so important to his team.” (Source)
Kesler has seven goals and 18 points in 18 games. Interestingly, however, the Boston Bruins have a way of neutralizing offensive leaders. Take Steven Stamkos, for instance, who managed only 2 goals in 7 games against Boston.
Kesler may or may not be healthy, but the likelihood that he is at 100%, while unknown, might seem questionable in light of the fact that he played significantly fewer minutes in Game 4 (see chart below). Was this due to his condition? Why else would he be playing fewer minutes? Maybe it was due to the fact that he had not registered a point in the previous 2 games, and had only one assist in the prior game.
Playing over 29 minutes in the 5th game against San Jose probably didn’t help Kesler’s injury–whether or not it was making itself heard at the time (read: whether or not he reported any pain).
But he did come back to score! Is this good reason for praise? Not on its own. The goal was scored 5-on-3 and he was a minus 2 in that game.
In light of these facts, as well as the final one to appear tonight, savvy Bruins fans are not in a state of panic.
5. Catch me if you Can
The Sedin twins don’t like to get hit, and they’re relatively slow. Conversely, a fact that has become hard to swallow (for lack of recent precedent) even for Bruins fans is the speed of this new Boston Bruins team. The Bruins boast a tremendous amount of speed in Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley, David “The Matrix” Krejci, the highly underrated Gregory Campbell, Brad “The (new) Rat” Marchand, and of course, Tyler Seguin on the second and sometimes even the third line.
6. Watch out for…
Casual fans might be surprised to learn that Milan Lucic is no longer the greatest threat when it comes to physical play. Who to watch out for, then? Here’s my subjective list, in order of perceived toughness, taking into account recent play but not discounting a sudden resurgence of malice.
- Johnny “The Bulldozer” Boychuk (See Hit) (See him Floor Coburn)
- Andrew Ference (Infamous Halpern Hit)
- Dennis Seidenberg (Big Hit in Tampa Series)
- Brad Marchand (You’d think he was 6 foot tall)
- Nathan Horton–that’s right. He does more than just score. (Flyers Series Highlights)
- Adam “Bad Ass” McQuaid (Fight vs. Paul Gaustad)
- Gregory Campbell, who can also be a real offensive threat and isn’t afraid to mix it up
- Zdeno Chara needs no introduction.
- And yes, even Mark Recchi (You’d think he was a youngin’)
- Lucic? Also needs no introduction. It depends on the night. He could be at the top of this list on some nights, but he’s been busy feeding Nathan Horton lately.
- Shawn Thornton? He may or may not get ice time. If he does, you’ll notice.
It’s not about the number of hits. It’s about momentum. And maybe a dash of killer instinct.