Much of the Canucks’ recent good fortune can be attributed to the formation of a powerful top line consisting of Ryan Kesler and Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The line has been so good they have spawned a competition to come up with the best nickname, with Canucks’ fan Rich Maerov coining the favored “BeastModo” while others have suggested “Ry and Gingers.”
The Canucks have won four of their last five games, vaulting them into third place in the Pacific Division and tied for fourth in the Western Conference. The question is, how long can this prolific line keep the Canucks surging forward? Let’s look at the numbers to help answer this question.
The Current Success
Over the last five games, of which the Canucks have won four before Wednesday night’s loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Kesler has scored five goals and added two assists, Daniel has contributed four goals and two assists, and Henrik has chipped in one goal and five assists.
On the season, Henrik has moved into second place in scoring, with three goals and 15 assists. Daniel has climbed into the top ten as well, with 6 goals and 9 assists. After a slow start, Kesler now has eight goals, which is sixth in the league.
This run of success has been important for Vancouver, as these three are the only Canucks that have been consistently scoring over the last five games. Chris Higgins has contributed two goals, and Brad Richardson and Zack Kassian have each added one. Alexander Burrows has yet to score since returning from injury, and the man who carried the Canucks early in the season, Mike Santorelli, has cooled off since his hot start. None of the Canucks highly paid defensemen have scored recently. David Booth, Jannik Hansen, Jordan Schroeder and Dale Weise are all out with injuries.
Although it is nice to see such strong production from the top line, it has come about partly due to significant ice time for the trio. The three have averaged around 25 minutes a game during the recent five game span, a huge amount of playing time for forwards in the modern NHL.
How long can the trio maintain their current pace? It is instructive to look at other top forwards to compare the minutes logged by Kesler and Sedins when compared to their peers.
Comparing the Data
On the season, the Canucks’ trio has averaged almost 23 minutes per game. Among forwards, only Sidney Crosby has averaged more ice time. It is important to note, however, that Crosby is only 26 while the Sedins are 33 and Kesler is 29. The other forwards in the top ten average around 22-23 years old. So while the ice time played by the Canucks’ top line is not totally out of line with other top forwards, Vancouver’s group is much older than other forwards logging heavy minutes.
Also, as mentioned earlier, the amount of time for the top line has gone up over the past couple weeks, averaging closer to 25 minutes. No other forward approaches this amount of minutes, whatever their age.
The data from recent seasons is pretty consistent with these findings. Last year, the now “retired” Ilya Kovalchuk played 24 minutes a night, but the rest of the leaders in ice time among forwards were down near or under 22 minutes. Again, the players in the top 10 were all under 30, except Martin St. Louis. Kovalchuk and St. Louis were the only exceptions in the prior year as well, with the Russian logging far more minutes than other forwards and St. Louis being the only older player logging top minutes among forwards.
Pace not sustainable
So can the “BeastModo” line keep up the pace? The data suggests it is unlikely. No forwards have recently managed to maintain a 25 minute pace throughout the season, and even 22 plus minutes will be a struggle for players at such an advanced (for hockey) age. Coach John Tortorella is known for riding his best players, but it seems likely the production currently being produced will eventually level off.
The problem for the Canucks is that there are no other forwards producing at a rate that Torts feels comfortable giving them more minutes. The injuries have not helped, but these players were not producing very well even when healthy.
The Burrows-Higgins-Santorelli line has the potential to pick up more of the slack, but until some of the third and fourth line players start to deliver consistently, Tortorella will be reluctant to lighten the load on the top group. Unfortunately, “Ry and Gingers” may go flat before long if they are not given more of a break.
In the meantime, Canucks’ fans should continue to enjoy the clinic this trio can put on when they are at their best. The Pacific Division is looking very strong, so the team must keep pushing for every available point in the short term, but this pace cannot be maintained throughout the season.