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April 15, 2010
NHL Playoffs, First Round
Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings

by Richard Pollock

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Vancouver vs. Los Angeles

There may not be a more interesting series to watch than the Vancouver Canucks versus the Los Angeles Kings. In Canada, CBC agrees as the national network decided to hitch its wagon to the Canucks and their Pacific rivals. First, I would like to note that it will be a nice advantage for these two teams to not have to jump across North America and multiple time zones to face each other.

Enough about time zones though—all anyone really wants to know is which team is going to win and why. Well, let’s take a look at the statistics to give us greater insight into each team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Vancouver and Los Angeles Offenses

Vancouver Offense GVT: +37.3 (Rank: 2nd in NHL)

Los Angeles Offense GVT: +5.3 (Rank: 10th in NHL)

The Canucks were one of the best teams in the NHL in terms of even strength goal ratio with a second-place ranking, whereas the Kings ranked a more than respectable ninth overall. When it comes to even strength offensive GVT, the Canucks once again rank second in the entire NHL, with the Kings finishing a mediocre 13th in that regard.

Let’s cut to the point, the Canucks are an offensive juggernaut. Led by the Sedin brothers who have combined for an impressive GVT of 47.1, Vancouver can produce offense in all situations. While in the past the team has been deemed too reliant on its number one line, this season that certainly was not the case. To help the offensive output up front, the Canucks have also relied upon Ryan Kesler (15.3 GVT), Alexandre Burrows (18.1 GVT) and Mikael Samuelsson (10.2 GVT). This is a team that can compete with anyone when it comes to offense, especially even strength offense.

With the likes of Kyle Wellwood, Michael Grabner, Mason Raymond and Pavol Demitra filling out the forward corps, there is no lack of speed and skill up for the British Columbia outfit.

The Canucks are tough to keep up with at even strength and do carry the edge over Los Angeles, but the Kings are a team that you cannot take for granted.

Just as the Canucks come at teams in waves, so do the Kings. Led by Anze Kopitar (19.0 GVT) the men from Southern California make up for their lack of speed, as compared to Vancouver, with a more physical style of play. Players like Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth go without fear to the opposing team’s net and are not afraid to take a hit to make a play and, more importantly, draw a penalty (Brown has drawn 46 penalties this season, while Smyth has drawn 19 penalties in 65 games). Add in veteran wingers like Justin Williams, the scorching hot Alexander Frolov and faceoff specialist Jarret Stoll (56.0% winning percentage) and you have a big, strong and skilled top-six.

Even with that talent up front, the Kings have not been in the same class, especially at even strength, as the Canucks have been. Therefore, the Kings’ third line of Michal Handzus (9.2 GVT), Wayne Simmonds (9.1 GVT) and one of Brad Richardson or Fredrik Modin are going to need to help lessen that offensive gap.

Advantage: Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver and Los Angeles Defenses

Vancouver Defense GVT: +6.7 (Rank: 11th in NHL)

Los Angeles Defense GVT: +15.9 (Rank: 3rd in NHL)

If the Kings are looking for an edge, here is where they may find it. The Canucks defense, at full health, is solid but not spectacular. Unfortunately for Canucks fans, the team is without Willie Mitchell, arguably the team’s best defensive defenseman. Even though some analysts think Mitchell’s style was not meshing well with the team’s high-tempo game, he still faced the opposition’s top line and the fall-off from Mitchell to his replacements is significant enough to make the team miss his presence on the backend.

The Canucks are led on the blueline by Christian Ehrhoff. The German rearguard can skate and move the puck (14.6 GVT, 14 goals and 30 assists), but lacks the defensive presence of some of the game’s better all-around blueliners. That said, while Ehrhoff doesn’t play against the other teams top forwards night-in and night-out, his Corsi rating is tops on the Canucks backend and Vancouver does see an edge of 3.1 shots over the opposition when Ehrhoff is on the ice.

After Ehrhoff, the Canucks rely on the likes of Alexander Edler (8.8 GVT), Kevin Bieksa (3.5 GVT) and Sami Salo (7.7 GVT). All three players have the necessary offensive attributes to help the team’s transition game; however, they are not without their flaws. Bieksa is the only defender on the Canucks with a negative ratio in terms of GFON/60 and GAON/60 (2.35/2.55) and has been inconsistent since returning from injury. Edler is counted on more than Bieksa as he played the second most minutes per game (22:38 minutes) just behind Ehrhoff, leads the team’s defense in blocked shots (115) and is counted on to contribute on the power play. His defensive IQ is not low, but he is prone to some mistakes and has to limit those in the postseason. As for Salo, well he has the team’s highest Corsi relative to quality of competition and logs the important minutes against the opposing team’s top competition. Unfortunately for Canucks fans, Salo is as brittle as they come. He always seems to be on the mend and this defense is one Salo injury away from having the likes of Andrew Alberts (negative GVT), Shane O’Brien or Aaron Rome (negative GVT) in its top four. With a second line of Brown-Stoll-Frolov do you think Alain Vigneault will feel any sort of confidence with any of Alberts, O’Brien or Rome logging big-time minutes? Not likely.

The Kings, on the other hand, have fewer question marks on the backend; that is because this team is led by Drew Doughty. Doughty is most likely going to be a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season and will probably own that trophy for the next decade. With tremendous puck skills, Doughty can quarterback the power play with ease and has tremendous vision when coming out of his own zone. His 18.9 GVT would easily be the best for a defenseman on Vancouver and will probably be rise into the 20s in the foreseeable future.

Joining Doughty on the backend is American Olympian Jack Johnson, veteran rearguard Sean O’Donnell, Philadelphia Flyers castoff Randy Jones, last year’s Stanley Cup champion Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene. There is more depth on the Kings’ backend, as none of the team’s top six defenders has a GVT below 2.9, but make no mistake, there is a dropoff after Doughty.

Johnson can skate and is a physical specimen, but he does make bad reads in his own zone and is fifth in terms of Kings defense in terms of quality of competition faced. O’Donnell is certainly not fast but he is a savvy veteran who makes his way on his smarts and remains the Kings’ third ranked defenseman in terms of quality of competition faced. For all of O’Donnell’s limitations, he remains third on the team‘s defense in Corsi relative to quality of competition and the Kings outscore their opponents 2.45/1.93 when he is on the ice. Scuderi was brought to Los Angeles to shore up the team’s defensive issues and Terry Murray is certainly utilizing him correctly. Scuderi leads the team in quality of competition faced and still posts a positive GFON/60 (2.44) compared to a GAON/60 (1.91) which is a nice differential considering his team is exactly even when he is not on the ice.

If the Canucks stay healthy on the backend, the Kings have a slight advantage, but if one of the Canucks’ defensemen goes down to injury, defense may be the key to a Los Angeles Kings upset.

Advantage: Los Angeles Kings

Vancouver and Los Angeles Goaltending

Vancouver Goaltending GVT: +3.3 (Rank: 14th in NHL)

Los Angeles Goaltending GVT: -3.8 (Rank: 17th in NHL)

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking about Roberto Luongo’s struggles. The Olympic gold medalist has posted a .913 save percentage this season, which is actually the worst save percentage of his career (save his 24 game season with the Islanders in 1999)—even though it still places him in the top 20 in the NHL in save percentage this season. For all of Luongo’s struggles, his even strength save percentage was .925 which was better than Martin Brodeur and equal to the much-talked about Pekka Rinne and Jimmy Howard. If Luongo did not play in a Canadian market, his struggles would hardly be talked about. Considering the difficulty in predicting goaltending performance, it is hard to say how Luongo will perform against the Kings. With that said, his past performance indicates that he is more apt to be good than bad.

Facing less pressure at the other end of the ice will be Jonathan Quick. Well, actually, if Quick played in a Canadian market, all you would be hearing about is how a bad performance could lead to the possibility of Jonathan Bernier starting a game in the playoffs after his impressive AHL season. Alas, Quick does not play in Canada, and this speculation has been limited. Quick’s save percentage this season was .907 and his even strength save percentage was .919 (nothing to write home about). By the numbers, Quick gives up quite a bit to Luongo. Luckily for Quick, the Kings are actually the third best team in the NHL when it comes to shots against so that should limit the opposing team’s odds of finding the back of the net.

For all that has been made about Luongo, he still holds an edge over Quick. Now, that does not mean he will outperform the American youngster, but the odds should be in his favor.

Advantage: Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver and Los Angeles Special Teams, Discipline, Faceoffs and Shootouts

Vancouver Power Play GVT: +9.2 (Rank: 2nd in NHL)

Los Angeles Power Play GVT: +8.0 (Rank: 3rd in NHL)

Vancouver Penalty Kill GVT: +1.7 (Rank: 13th in NHL)

Los Angeles Penalty Kill GVT: -3.6 (Rank: 21st in NHL)

Vancouver Discipline GVT: +2.1 (Rank: 10th in NHL)

Los Angeles Discipline GVT: +0.7 (Rank: 11th in NHL)

Vancouver Shootout GVT: +1.0 (Rank: 13th in NHL)

Los Angeles Shootout GVT: +3.0 (Rank: 6th in NHL)

The Kings are not the most disciplined team in the NHL, in fact, the team sits smack dab in the middle of the NHL in terms of penalties taken at 15th. Conversely, the Canucks sit at a poor 26th overall in the NHL in terms of penalties taken. Taking into account the fact that both of these teams sit in the top ten of the NHL in terms of power play percentage and the Canucks better cut down on their penalties in round one.

In the faceoff circle, the Canucks are strong with the likes of Ryan Kesler (55.1 percent) and Kyle Wellwood (53.8 percent). Overall, Vancouver finished seventh in the NHL in terms of faceoff percentage; whereas the Kings finished 12th.

When it comes to the shootout, the Kings had 14 shootout victories this season and the Canucks only had 8 shootout victories. So, subtract 6 points off the standings and the gap between the two teams does widen some.

Advantage: Even

Prediction

The Canucks are a force up front and certainly have a serviceable bac-end when healthy. Combine that with Roberto Luongo between the pipes and this team certainly has the makings of a strong Stanley Cup contender.

While the Canucks are certainly the favorite here, do not forget about this Kings squad. Los Angeles is deep and has an interesting mix of youth and veteran experience. If the Canucks defense cannot handle the depth of the Kings’ forward lines and Quick plays Luongo to a draw (certainly possible) the Kings certainly have the ability to pull the upset.

Prediction: Canucks in 7 games.

Richard Pollock is Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve.

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