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Numbers Game - 03.20.15

by Thomas Drance / Vancouver Canucks
It’s shaping up to be a tooth and nail fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

After falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-2 on Thursday night, the Vancouver Canucks have 84 points, putting them one point up the Calgary Flames and two points ahead of their opponent on Saturday afternoon - the Los Angeles Kings - for second place in the Pacific Division. Purists are sometimes loath to admit it, but when we talk about hockey, we’re almost always talking about numbers.

Here’s a compilation of numbers and statistics that capture some key Canucks storylines as the club enters the final stretch run of the 2014-15 season.

96 – Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack has been unusually forthcoming about how well the club has to perform down the stretch in order to qualify for the NHL postseason.

“We have to get (into) the playoffs,” Lack said on Thursday, following Vancouver’s loss. “We need six more wins.”

Lack’s magical number that the Canucks need to hit, at minimum, in order to safely qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs: 96 points. Sounds about right.

98.2 – The Canucks are currently projected to exceed Lack’s magical number, according to the latest point projections from mathematician Micah Blake McCurdy. McCurdy is currently projecting the Canucks to finish the campaign with 98.2 points, which obviously isn’t possible as a concrete possibility, but round down and don’t be so literal about it OK?

56.4% The Los Angeles Kings have managed to control 56.4 percent of score adjusted shot attempts in their 25 games since the All-Star break. That’s easily the best number in the league during that span. The discrepancy between the Kings’ inability to rack up wins in the regular season, and the persistent strength of their underlying numbers and complete dominance of the NHL postseason remains baffling.

49.3% The Canucks are not quite the elite puck possession club that the Kings are, and in fact are modestly below water with a 49.3 percent score adjusted shot attempt differential in their 25 games since the All-Star break.

Shot attempt differential, adjusted for game state, is a useful metric to use when gauging overall team quality at even-strength. While these numbers don’t account for goaltending or special teams play, they do a decent job of capturing how well a team is controlling play at 5-on-5, and have been shown to have more predictive power than a team’s goal differential or record.

44% In contrast with the elite Kings and the middling Canucks, the Calgary Flames have controlled just 44 percent of score adjusted 5-on-5 shot attempts in their 24 games since the All-Star break. That’s the third worst number in the league, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and the Colorado Avalanche.

The Flames are polished. They’re a very good defensive team and they play an extraordinarily disciplined brand of hockey, but the underlying numbers would suggest that they’re limited offensively and struggle to control games at 5-on-5.

By the underlying metrics the Pacific Division race pits an elite puck possession club that hasn’t been able to convert their control of the run of play into wins (L.A.), an average puck possession club (Vancouver), and an outlier team that has won in spite of being buried consistently on the shot clock (Calgary).

These teams couldn’t be any more different from one another and it’ll be fascinating to see how it all plays out.

24 – Newly signed Canucks prospect Ben Hutton, a 6-foot-3 defenseman whom the Canucks selected with a fifth-round draft pick back in 2012, scored 24 goals over 74 games in his final two seasons with the University of Maine Black Bears.

Hutton has been added to the Utica Comets roster on a tryout deal, and is eligible to compete in the Calder Cup playoffs this spring.

12 – Newly signed Canucks prospect Ashton Sautner, a CHL free agent currently playing for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, has scored 12 goals in 70 games this season. That total matches Sautner’s output from his three seasons prior.

Sautner’s entry-level deal will kick in at the start of the next league year, so expect him to be added to the Comets roster on a tryout deal when his major junior season comes to an end.

52.6% The Comets are loading up for the Calder Cup playoffs, and indeed have been doing so all season. They should be, because it sure looks like they’re every bit as good as anyone else in the American Hockey League.

On the season as a whole the Comets have controlled 52.6 percent of all shots on goal, the fourth best mark in the AHL, according to hockeystats.ca. With reinforcements like Hutton, Sautner, and potentially current Canucks skaters like Adam Clendening, Ronalds Kenins and Jacob Markstrom coming, the Comets are shaping up to be a bona fide Calder Cup contender.

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