After taking turns as the NHL scoring leaders and taking home the Art Ross Trophy in 2010 and 2011, the Sedin twins are averaging a little less than a point per game for a second straight season.
They still lead the Canucks in scoring by a wide margin. Older (by minutes) brother Henrik has 44 points and Daniel isn't far behind with 40. But in a season when the 32-year-olds moved into first and second all-time in Canucks scoring, they have slipped further down the NHL season leaders.
Dig a little deeper into the statistics, however, and there is a different narrative to be found, one that highlights how much tougher this season really has been for the Sedins. Looking at advanced statistics available on websites including behindthenet.ca, Daniel and Henrik are playing the hardest minutes of their 12-year NHL careers, starting more shifts in their own end and against better opponents.
Ask the Sedins directly and they'll say it's their best defensive season.
"I think so," Henrik said. "I think we are more confident in our own end, getting back, breaking out, and I think that comes with maybe the coaches more putting us out there in those situations, where we need to focus on that. In the past, our only job was to produce, and if your only job is to get goals you might cheat a little more to get in the other end, and that's when it hurts you the other way."
The numbers go well beyond Henrik's plus-20 rating or Daniel's plus-13.
With injuries keeping Selke Trophy-winning center Ryan Kesler out most of the season and limiting shutdown specialist Manny Malhotra to nine games, the Sedins were deployed more often in their own end. After the twins started nearly 80 percent of their shifts in the offensive end last season -- tops among all NHL forwards by almost 12 percent -- Henrik's offensive zone starts are down to 63.3 percent this season. Yet the amount of times he finishes a shift in the offensive zone actually went up, from 58.8 to 60.2 percent.
"We want to show we can play both sides of the rink," said Daniel, whose zone starts on offense were slightly higher than Henrik. "That's how you want to be looked at as a hockey player, being dependable, and I think we are."
The quality of opponents the Sedins are facing has also shifted this season. This can be seen in a dramatic increase in their Relative Corsi Quality of Competition numbers on behindthenet.ca.
Henrik's Relative Corsi QoC this season is 1.271 and Daniel is at 1.179, second only to linemate Alexandre Burrows among the Canucks and top-30 among NHL forwards who have played a full season. More significantly, it's way up from seasons past. Last season, the Sedin twins ranked eighth and ninth among the Canucks with a Relative Corsi QoC of 0.363 for Daniel and 0.328 for Henrik. And their numbers and rankings were even lower in the previous two seasons.
Because Corsi measures shots directed at the net, and the kind of defensive specialists opposing coaches have traditionally put out against the Sedins don't necessarily try to create offense, those low rankings in past seasons don't mean they haven't played against tough opponents. The difference this season is they are being used more often against the other team's top forwards.
"We like that," Henrik said. "I always said we don't want to be one-dimensional guys. We want to be guys that take faceoffs in their own end, play against top guys, and I think if you look at the games this year we played our best games against L.A. when we were matched up against [Anze] Kopitar, our last game [against the Chicago Blackhawks] a lot of our minutes were against [Jonathan] Toews, and against [San Jose Sharks center Joe] Thornton at home too."
Daniel said they still see opponent's top defensemen, but are now up against more top forwards instead of checking lines, and they relish the opportunity.
"We take a lot of pride in being able to play both sides of the rink and it has been a challenge," he said. "Against offensive guys, it tends to open up more. They want to produce, too, and might take chances, so for us it's easier to play against a top line than a checking line because their only job is to shut you down."
Coach Alain Vigneault said he's always trusted the Sedins in all zones, but with injuries to Kesler and Malhotra he's needed them to start on defense more.
"The only difference this year is in the past I have been able to really save them for offensive minutes at the other end where I start them on faceoffs," Vigneault said. “This year, because of personnel situation I haven't had that luxury, I've had to use them a lot of times in defensive minutes, defensive faceoffs."
As for the decline in numbers this season, the Sedins each point to a power play that was at the bottom of the NHL before going on a run the past 10 games.
Daniel led the NHL with 42 power-play points when he won the scoring race in 2011, but he and Henrik each have 12 points each with the man advantage this season, ranking them in the 50s in the League.
"I would be more worried if our power play was good and our 5-on-5 was down," Daniel said. "That's not the case and that's why I am happy with our game."
Even if some of the surface numbers indicate it's declining.
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