SERIES REVIEW: First Casualty – Vancouver Canucks swept.

Patrick Marleau proves how gutless he is by potting the overtime winner. Image courtesy of sports.yahoo.com.

Patrick Marleau proves how gutless he is by potting the overtime winner. Image courtesy of sports.yahoo.com.

Or should that be wept?

The Vancouver Canucks, one of the best teams in the entire NHL over the last few years, may have just seen their window of opportunity for a Stanley Cup slam shut in dramatic fashion.  Last night saw the San Jose Sharks complete a stunning sweep of the series, a shocking upset for Canucks fans everywhere.  The most quoted statistic of the last 24 hours has to be the fact that since winning Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against Boston, the team has won just one playoff game in 11 subsequent attempts.  One. Single. Game.  Depressing if you’re a Canucks fan.  Hilarious if you’re anyone else.

So why did they fail so miserably this year?

GAME 1

The Canucks scored first in this one, off a Kevin Bieksa backhand shot midway through the 2nd period, but the Sharks hit right back with a Logan Couture powerplay tally, and followed that up with two more markers in the third period to complete the 3-1 win.

Key statistics:

SAN JOSE SHARKS VANCOUVER CANUCKS
EVEN STRENGTH GOALS 2 1
POWERPLAY GOALS 1 0
TOTAL SHOTS ON NET 28 30
EVEN STRENGTH SHOTS 18 27
POWERPLAY SHOTS  10  3
MISSED SHOTS  7 13
ATTEMPTED SHOTS BLOCKED 11 15
TOTAL SHOTS (ON NET+MISSED+BLOCKED) 46 58
GIVEAWAYS 2 4
PENALTIES TAKEN 2 4
FACE-OFF % 57%  43%
HITS 26 40

The shot statistics actually indicate that the Canucks had far greater possession of the puck.  They had nearly the same amount of shots blocked or missed than they put on net, indicating both strong puck possession but also perhaps an inability to get pucks through or on target, something that obviously needs to happen for a goal to be scored.  Either way, a team that dominant in possession doesn’t often lose, as the Canucks demonstrated during the regular season.

Vancouver’s powerplay definitely let them down in this one.  Yes, they only got 2 powerplays thanks to the Sharks’ discipline, but only generating 3 shots on net in 4 minutes of the man-advantage?  That’s not going to get you very far.  The team’s physical play resulted in four San Jose Sharks powerplays (one penalty – roughing to Bieksa – was a coincidental minor so didn’t result in a Sharks PP opportunity), one of which they scored on, and they also generated 10 shots in that time – or 2.5 on net each time.

Roberto Luongo didn’t provide the goaltending needed either, putting up just a .889 even strength save percentage and a .900 save percentage whilst shorthanded, for a total .893 SV%.  Antti Niemi meanwhile, gave the Sharks some stellar netminding, with a 0.962 EV SV%, 1.00 PK SV% and total .967 SV%.

To put it simply, the Sharks made the most of their opportunities and Vancouver didn’t, and to compound things they ran into a hot goalie.

GAME 2

Game 2 saw the Sharks score first in the Canucks’ home rink, and whilst they fought back early in the third period to gain a 2-1 lead thanks to Ryan Kesler, the Sharks tied the game with less than a minutes remaining – courtesy of the “playoff no-show” Patrick Marleau and his second of the series – followed by Raffi Torres’ snipe in overtime.  This bewildering 3-2 OT loss put Vancouver in a 2-0 hole in the series, with two road games coming up.

Key statistics:

SAN JOSE SHARKS VANCOUVER CANUCKS
EVEN STRENGTH GOALS 3 1
POWERPLAY GOALS 0 1
TOTAL SHOTS ON NET 33 31
EVEN STRENGTH SHOTS 29 27
POWERPLAY SHOTS 4 2
MISSED SHOTS 10 17
ATTEMPTED SHOTS BLOCKED 11 22
TOTAL SHOTS (ON NET+MISSED+BLOCKED) 54 70
GIVEAWAYS 5 7
PENALTIES TAKEN 3 5
FACE-OFF % 48% 52%
HITS 27 45

Once again, Vancouver dominated the possession metrics, amassing an amazing 70 attempted shots, yet they only hit the net with 44.28% of those shots.  The Sharks, whilst they only managed 54 attempted shots – still an improvement on Game 1 – managed to get 61.1% of theirs on net.  Neither team generated much on the powerplay, San Jose only managing 4 shots in 5 opportunities and Vancouver only 2 in 3 opportunities, but the Canucks at least made one of those count.  Still, it is clear that the Canucks are struggling to generate much on the powerplay.

In net, Niemi was once again quality for the Sharks, generating a .963 EV SV% to Luongo’s .897 EV SV%.  Those sorts of numbers by Luongo are not going to help win games.

GAME 3

Returning to their home rink two games up on Vancouver, San Jose took control early and often in Game 3, thanks to two goals by Joe Pavelski.  Alex Burrows replied for Vancouver, but the Sharks responded with three more tallies – including one by that playoff bum Marleau, his third in three games – and despite a Dan Hamhuis wrist shot making things interesting late in the 3rd period, the Sharks skated away with a dominating 5-2 victory to take a stranglehold on the series.

Key statistics:

SAN JOSE SHARKS VANCOUVER CANUCKS
EVEN STRENGTH GOALS 2 2
POWERPLAY GOALS 3 0
TOTAL SHOTS ON NET 38 30
EVEN STRENGTH SHOTS 24 23
POWERPLAY SHOTS 14 4
MISSED SHOTS 10 9
BLOCKED SHOTS ATTEMPTED 17 20
TOTAL SHOTS (ON NET+MISSED+BLOCKED) 65 59
GIVEAWAYS 14 16
PENALTIES TAKEN 4 11
FACE-OFF % 58% 42%
HITS 33 41

San Jose’s possession game improved even more in this one, as they pounded 65 shots at Vancouver, and whilst their percentage of shots that were on target was down to 58%, it was still better than the Canucks’ 50.84%.  The Canucks were clearly losing confidence in their possession game throughout the series, and by this point – not helped by playing on the road, something they weren’t great at in the regular season either – were clearly playing worse than San Jose.

Vancouver didn’t help their own cause by giving the puck away 16 times, although San Jose wasn’t much better at 14, and then to top things off they took 8 penalties, giving the Sharks 22 minutes in powerplay time – theoretically, as 2 of those minutes was a coincidental minor and another was right at the end of the game.  The actual time San Jose spent on the powerplay was 11 minutes 36 seconds, plus 1 minute 4 seconds at 5v3.  The Sharks produced 14 shots in that time, and came away with 3 goals for their efforts.  Lack of discipline was killing any chance Vancouver had at gaining momentum.

In goal, Corey Schneider returned from injury to take over from Luongo.  He allowed 5 goals on 28 shots for a .821 SV%, including a .895 EV SV% and a .667 PK SV%.  He was pulled after 44 minutes, with Luongo shutting the door for a further 10 shots in nearly 16 minutes.  Niemi meanwhile, continued his outstanding play with a .913 EV SV% and a 1.00 PK SV%, plus 3 saves on 3 shots whilst the team was on the powerplay, for a total .933 SV%.

GAME 4

Hence, we arrive here.  A chance to end it for the Sharks, and one last opportunity for the Canucks.  The game started out close, with a San Jose score by Brent Burns quickly cancelled out by a Mason Raymond snipe, followed by another Joe Pavelski goal, giving the Sharks a 2-1 lead that would last until nearly the halfway point of the third period.  Vancouver scored two goals in quick succession to take a 3-2 lead, the first time they’d scored more than 2 goals in a game in the series, and giving them new life.  That was shortlived, however, as Pavelski backhanded yet another goal past Schneider to tie the game with less than 5 minutes remaining.

Over 13 minutes into overtime, that gutless dirtbag Marleau struck for the series-clinching goal, and the Vancouver Canucks’ season was over.

Key statistics:

SAN JOSE SHARKS VANCOUVER CANUCKS
EVEN STRENGTH GOALS 1 1
POWERPLAY GOALS 3 2
TOTAL SHOTS ON NET 47 35
EVEN STRENGTH SHOTS 30 31
POWERPLAY SHOTS 17  3
MISSED SHOTS 19 12
BLOCKED SHOTS ATTEMPTED 16 23
TOTAL SHOTS (ON NET+MISSED+BLOCKED) 82 70
GIVEAWAYS 21 10
PENALTIES TAKEN 3 7
FACE-OFF % 38% 62%
HITS 21 20

The number of attempted by the Sharks in this one, both on net and others, is insane.  The fact they managed to get 57% of all their attempted shots on net is pretty impressive, and consistent with what they’ve done so far in the series, whilst the Canucks just managed to hit 50% again.  By virtue of this, the Sharks dominated possession in this game again, and were certainly helped out by the 7 penalties taken by Vancouver – the consequent powerplays generating 3 goals for the Sharks on 17 shots on net.  And this was despite San Jose sucking in the face-off dot and gifting the Canucks 21 giveaways.

Niemi looked a bit more human in this one than previously, but was still great at even strength – posting a 0.935 SV% in that discipline – but did allow two powerplay goals on 3 shots, which is something he’ll want to forget moving on in the playoffs.  Schneider was strong at even strength, but a disaster killing penalties with a 0.823 SV%.

KEYS TO THE SERIES

  • Vancouver got well and truly beaten down in the goaltending department.  Looks like Schneider isn’t the answer after all.
  • Vancouver’s possession got worse throughout the series, whilst San Jose’s got better.
  • Ill-discipline by Vancouver afforded the Sharks’ hot powerplay chance after chance.

Alain Vigneault looks solemn following Vancouver’s second straight first round exit. Image courtesy of nucksmisconduct.com.

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