And no organization has endured a more compelling lesson than those same Canucks, a team on the brink of elimination after the furious return of Game 4 in Vegas on Sunday night.
For the Canucks, this series is sort of found money. The roster is still in transition under the leadership of general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green, and the idea of this team winning a playoff series – let alone two – last October would have been hard to believe.
But their younger players have been ahead of the development curve for some time now, and it’s sparked serious excitement about what the next few years could look like in BC.
It’s easy to forget that this team is truly a work in progress – a team still trying to navigate the muddy waters of the salary cap and in need of a skill influx further down the lineup. Vancouver’s depth players managed to trample the water against Minnesota and St. Louis, as their stars exploded in the offensive end of the ice. But it was a very different story against Vegas.
As the Canucks continue to try to squeeze every drop of production possible from their stars, the Golden Knights run four seemingly interchangeable lines and three interchangeable defensive pairs that play a fast-paced, physical north-south type of game.
This depth advantage came through strongly in the series. Every now and then you’ll see painfully long shifts in Vancouver where the Canucks are bottled up in the defensive zone (like defenseman Tyler Myers’ second period quarterback at 2:18 in Game 4), usually the result of lines superiors tired or of an overpowering depth. players who cannot leave the area.
The ice has been, in a nutshell, tilted: The Golden Knights have 60 more shooting attempts and 28 more evenly-matched scoring chances this series, and have beaten the Canucks 11-5.
For Vegas, considerable depth reduces the pressure on a line to deliver. Play most of your shift in the offensive zone – it doesn’t matter who’s on the ice and who you’re playing against – and the numbers will win.
At the match level, it happens over and over again in this series:
It’s easy to catch your eyes to what the line-up Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson are doing to some of Vancouver’s top non-Elias Pettersson forwards. Getting an almost 30-stroke advantage in 25 minutes of head-to-head ice time is domination, and it’s tough to win games when your top players spend so much time defending the course of the game.
But the most important point – and the reason why Vegas just looks like a superior team in this series – is that Vegas really isn’t afraid of any game in this series.
For example: Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins lead Vegas in ice time evenly, and superstar winger Stone played three minutes longer than fourth-row near-executioner Ryan Reaves. In fact, the Vegas depth players have been dominant against any combination of Vancouver forwards.
I think most of this is just a math problem. There’s not a single shift where the Pettersson Line catches a break – they’re either dealing with an equally capable top six, or have to work through a combination of hyper-aggressive forward control and a speed play of Golden Knights last six counterattack. .
The opposite side of the coin is also problematic: The Stone line against Vancouver’s deep forwards is a nightmare, and Green knows it.
So what is going on? Green protects his players from depth as much as he can. To date, skaters like Tyler Motte, Tyler Toffoli, Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Adam Gaudette and Antoine Roussel have averaged just four minutes of ice time against the Vegas lead line.
For reference, Golden Knights end winger Cousins saw 17 minutes one-on-one with Pettersson.
It would be premature to print the death certificate in Vancouver’s season – if we’ve learned anything from young core and goalie Jacob Markstrom, it’s that they are starters in times of adversity. But regardless of the end of the series, Vegas has taught Vancouver an important lesson in the vital depth of the modern age of hockey.
This Canucks team may be the next big hockey star. But it’s going to require a little overhaul of the bottom half of the lineup to get there.
Données via NHL.com, Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey