Is Mike Santorelli the two-way, second line centreman Vancouver was looking for?
Fans appear to be pleasantly surprised by Mike Santorelli's play thus far in the season. Santorelli was a 20-goal scorer in Florida before going cold over stretches of two seasons with the Panthers and then in Winnipeg. I've seen people question why the Jets ever would have given up on Santorelli, given what we've seen out of him in Vancouver so far.
Santorelli's offence hasn't really been the key to his resurgence in Vancouver. It's been his defence and his fitness. I went into further depth about Santorelli's offence in this post over at Canucks Army last week, and something has happened between then and now that has increased Santorelli's early season value: his play with Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows.
When John Tortorella moved Ryan Kesler to the first line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, he also experimented with some second and third line combinations, and it took him a game or two to wind up with Santorelli-Higgins-Burrows. The trio wound up together for the 3-2 win over Washington.
Thus far in four games with Santorelli on the ice, the Canucks have directed 70 pucks at the opposition's net and had 52 recorded at their own. This would be a "+18 Corsi", and it indicates that the Canucks have held the puck in the opponents end approximately 57 per cent of the time when Santorelli has been on the ice in four games.
What's also notable is the competition has been very good. The centres that Santorelli has matched up against are Brooks Laich (2nd line), Stephen Weiss (2nd line), Nazem Kadri (1st line) and Martin Hanzal (1st line).
The line is still in its infancy and if there's anything we've learned about Tortorella, it's that he likes to use several different line combinations per game and per week. Still, I did mention above the defence and fitness, which have been Santorelli's main concerns throughout his career. According to Behind the Net, in Santorelli's 20-goal season he was out-shot by 1.3 attempts every 60 minutes relative to his teammates. This season, he's out-shot the opposition by 10.0 attempts every 60 minutes relative to his teammates. There's also an ice-time factor: Santorelli is playing a little over 15-and-a-half minutes at 5-on-5 this season while he was kept to a little over 12 minutes in 2010-2011. Santorelli was in great shape at the start of camp, clocking a better time in the two-mile run than the Sedins. He's always been a fairly good offensive player, but never played enough minutes to generate a good amount of goals or shots. He's been getting that opportunity this year, and it's his ice-time that I'm going to keep the closest eye on.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin, like in previous years, no strangers to the offensive zone
There was a lot of talk when Tortorella was hired about how this would change the Sedins' game. The Sedins habitually started in the offensive zone: between 2011 and 2012, about half of the time the Canucks earned a faceoff in the offensive zone at 5-on-5 former coach Alain Vigneault would send them over the boards and hardly ever for the defensive. This strategy, which seems fairly obvious on the outset, began being picked up by coaches league-wide and within two seasons, about half of the coaches in the NHL were paying closer attention to which zone the puck was in before settling on a line to send out for the draw. It helped coaches on the road that don't get last change.
In some circles, getting prime offensive minutes became known as getting "the Sedin treatment".
So how different is this treatment under Tortorella? Not a whole lot. While Henrik Sedin was rarely on the ice for defensive zone faceoffs from 2010-2012, he was frequently on the ice for them in 2013 out of necessity with all the injuries to centremen. Nothing appears to have changed:
It's indistinguishable on the chart.
Then there's the matter of the twins' offensive production. Last year Henrik scored at a 0.94 point-per-game rate, and this year he's up to 1.18, higher than 2011 when his brother won the scoring title. Part of that appears to be luck evening out, but the twins have also taken more shots when on the ice at even strength than last season. That may be a matter for another day, since trying to explain, or predict, shooting percentages in small samples just leads to frustration.
I did want to bring this up, however:
(from the NHL's real time stats page)
There was also a lot of talk when Tortorella was hired about how the Sedins would have to block shots now. The two have combined for a total of nine blocked shots in the team's first 17 games, and while that is slightly higher than before, it could also just be a sampling error.
That's not intended to be a criticism about the Sedins not having shot blocking ability. The thing that isn't mentioned nearly enough is that a high number of blocked shots can sometimes mean that you're spending a lot of time in your own end. In fact, the teams that block the most shots tend to be the ones that spend the most time in their own end.
So far, the Tortorella Canucks are 5th in the league in blocked shots with 244. There's no "official" NHL stat for "shots blocked by the opposition" but it could be useful. You can find it with a bit of work from your calculator (at Extra Skater, subtract FF [Fenwick Events For] from CF [Corsi Events For]) and you'll see that the Canucks are also 5th in opposition blocks, with 249.
That's 9 combined blocks for Daniel and Henrik? Well, opponents have blocked 23 of Daniel's shots and 7 of Henrik's.
And... what about that powerplay?
Here's something I wrote in my last post up here, back on October 23:
"the Canucks' powerplay has not been getting good results. According to ExtraSkater.com however, they are generating 96.5 shots per 60 minutes when on the man advantage, so there's reason to think that the team's inability to score is just an anomaly. They've converted just 5.7% of their shots into goals, and percentages that are too low or too high in the early going of a season can usually be expected to correct themselves closer to the mean before the season is out."
The team is now taking just 88.0 unblocked shots per 60 minutes (that 96.5 number was definitely unsustainable) which is still very high, however. The goals… still aren't coming. The team has shot just 5.7% on the powerplay, despite the man advantage unit having clicked in each of the last two games. They're still 27th in goals for per 60 5-on-4 minutes with 3.44.
I'm still sticking to my guns. It's only a matter of time before the Canucks powerplay blows open. It's just looked too good without converting.