Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Sedins, defence and shot blocking

Coming soon to a Sedin near you. Shot blocking!
Copyright The Province.
Much has been made since Tortorella's initial christening with the media about the Sedins' newfound expectation to be more defensively responsible. (See the National Post, PITB and The Province, to name just a small few.) That, as Torts has routinely indicated, will include penalty killing and yes -- not Henrik's ironman streak! -- blocking shots.

Now the idea of either Sedin throwing their graceful, talent-laden bodies in front of 100 mph slapshots is probably enough to make even Don Cherry question Torts' expectations. But the Sedins deserve a lot more credit for their defensive capabilities than doubters seem to give them.

First of all, Henrik and Daniel on the penalty kill isn't a completely foreign concept. In 2005-06, they ranked third and fourth among team forwards in short handed time on ice (behind Trevor Linden and Ryan Kesler). It was that same post-lockout year that the Sedins were transformed from marginal second-liners to their perpetual point-a-game selves, eclipsing the West Coast Express as the team's go-to players on offense. Clearly, the extra defensive responsibility was not something that burdened their overall game. And with the Sedins manning the second unit on the penalty kill that year, the Canucks finished with a success rate of 81.8%. By comparison, the team rating this past year was just 2.2% better. Mind you, that's with Schneider and Luongo in net versus one Alex Auld.

As far as even strength play goes, without a healthy Ryan Kesler or a 2010-caliber Manny down the middle for the majority of the 2013 season, the Sedins' defensive responsibilities skyrocketed.  This change in their game was explored in depth by Thomas Drance on To borrow just a few key figures from Drance's late-April article, Henrik was deployed for considerably more defensive zone starts in 2013 than previous years (15% more than 2012-13 and 8% more than 2011-12). Meanwhile, based on Henrik's quality of competition metric, the Sedins were facing some of the toughest line matchups of their careers.

Statistically, you'd think that a measure like plus-minus would suffer from such trends. While plus-minus remains a dubious statistic, it nonetheless follows that if a player were defensively irresponsible, their plus-minus would drop if playing in more defensive situations 5-on-5 against tougher competition. Yet, the Sedins ended the campaign boasting ratings of +18 (Daniel) and +19 (Henrik). Extrapolated over an 82-game season, those plus-minuses would hover around the +32 mark -- ie. the second-best ratings of their careers. (See BTD's article on the Sedins' career plus-minus ranking among active NHLers.)

Five-on-five, the Sedins scored at a pace that wasn't that far off that of 2011. Compared year-to-year, Henrik scored 59 even-strength points in 82 games that year, as opposed to 31 over 48 games in 2013. (Without sidetracking too much, it seems that all the only major difference between the Sedins' Art Ross pace of previous years and their current production is their once-lethal power play efficiency.) As demonstrated by the introduction of short handed ice time to the Sedins in 2005-06, it appears that extra defensive responsibility isn't going to sidetrack their offensive capabilities.

Clearly, there is sufficient precedence for the Sedins to be two-way players. But more importantly in all of this, the Sedins have solidly-entrenched reputations as very cerebral players. (All of that ample forehead space is no coincidence.) Offensively, they're game is based on positioning and an outrageous amount of hockey sense -- a pair of qualities that translate extremely well to the defensive side of the game.

There's no reason to believe that they'll struggle under Tortorella's expectations of them. And knowing the Sedins and their dedication to the game and more importantly, the team, you know that they'll be putting everything into Tortorellla's new system. The extra responsibility can only make them better as players and in turn, spell more success for the team as a whole.

Ultimately, time will only tell. Luckily, October 3 is just twelve days away.


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