For Flames fans, this season has been terrible for two distinct reasons: one of them is obvious while the other is the fact that the Vancouver Canucks are currently the best team in the Western Conference. If not the league. On top of all that, Ryan Kesler is the main reason for their dominance.
The Sedin twins get a lot of the billing and they’re obviously teriffic. However, Kesler earned his Selke nomination last year and, if anything, he’s been even better this season so far. He still routinely faces top competition, he starts in the offensive zone just 46.7% of the time and he has one of the best corsi rates amongst regular skaters on the Canucks (+14/60). The Sedins have slightly better possession rate (+17/60 or so), but their zone start hovers around the 70% (!!) range. Each of them has seen about 120 more o-zone draws than the alternative thus far. That’s equivalent to roughly an extra +96 to their raw corsi scores. Kesler has taken 21 more d-zone draws, worth about -16.8 corsi. If we adjust things accordingly, the Sedins get knocked down to about +69 raw corsi or +7.08/60. Kesler moves up a tad from +127 raw to +144 (+15.86/60) – more than double the Sedins adjusted rate.
Whats more, Henrik and Daniel are always playing with each other, meaning a high quality of line mate. Kesler, on the other hand, has regularly skated with Jeff Tambellini, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen and Mikael Samuelsson this year. Not exactly a murderers row. Raymond and Tambellini in particular have benfitted from playing with Kesler the last couple of seasons. Neither of those youngsters was knocking the ball out of the park prior to playing with Kesler – hell, Tambellini was an AHLer before being recalled by the Canucks due to injuries this season. Now he suddenly has a better corsi rate than any of the Flames regular skaters not currently on the revelatory fourth line (+14.54/60). Kesler plays the heavies and drags some anchors along with him while doing it.
Speaking of fourth lines, Moss and company are in for another big night assuming they continue to get matched up against the Cancuks "energy unit" (considering the success of the Flames other trios, they may just move up the rotation). Vancouver’s bottom six used to be their weak point, but with the additions for Malholtra and Torres, that chink in the armor has shrunk to the bottom three. Guys like Tanner Glass and Alex Bolduc continue to get completely buried by Alain Vigneault in terms of zone starts (which is how the Sedins become so privileged) and they aren’t the best hockey players in the world to begin with. Note to career checkers and tough guys: as long as AV is in Vancouver, signing with the Canucks is a career killing move.
The Flames are obviously in tough tonight. No team in the league has been better than the Canucks over the last 10 games (9-0-1). They sport the best goal differential in the NHL (+36), the second best PP (24.8%) and the seventh best PK (85%). Some percentages at ES are lubing the Canucks slide into the upper echelon thus far, but they’re more than good enough to beat the Flames absent any favorable bounces. If Calgary decides to sleep through another first period, this one could be over after 20 minutes.