No one has ever really considered Henrik Sedin to be an especially tough hockey player. In the early years, he and his brother were often criticized and routinely described as fey. As the two twins piled up points, and established themselves in the NHL, they finally garnered respect – but, again, no one consider them tough.
In this truncated season, the Sedins are playing tough. Tough minutes, against their toughest-ever competition, and have shouldered the Vancouver Canucks – along with the team’s goaltenders – to the team’s fifth consecutive Northwest Division title. It is the first time in recent years that the Sedins have been called on to deliver an offensive punch and simultaneously take on opponents’ best players, first line against first line.
Amid questions of whether they had lost a step, turning 32 last September, the Sedins were called on immediately, and continued throughout much of the season, a direct consequence of the absence of Ryan Kesler, who has played just one third of the games in 2013, and only recently is really nearing his typical full tilt. The Sedins, says associate coach Rick Bowness, have been “the focal point” of teams’ game plans against the Canucks.
“Somehow they continue to carry the team,” Bowness said on Tuesday. “The opposition has been totally focused on shutting them down and somehow they still manage to get points and somehow we still manage to win the division. They’re our best players, they’re our go-to guys.”
Numerous numbers bear out the Sedins’s tough season, especially for Henrik, the team captain. All in, the numbers bear out an impressive shift in play for the Sedins, in their 12th NHL season – and Henrik playing 627 consecutive games, the seventh-longest ironman streak in league history. Coach Alain Vigneault, who, last year especially, used the Sedins as offensive missiles, this year has had to depend on them more as two-way players, and they’ve delivered.
“Their conditioning is unbelievable,” said Dale Weise, a fourth-line forward, crediting their fanatical fitness regimes. “That’s what makes these guys as good as they are.”
Long-time teammate Roberto Luongo credits selflessness, even as the twins have both won top scorer awards in their careers.
“With them, it’s not about points,” Luongo said. “It’s about points. If we win a game 1-0, and they’re not on the scoresheet, they’ll be just as happy as a game like last night [a win against Chicago] where they dominated the scoresheet. That’s why they’re leaders, that’s why Henrik’s the captain. That’s the type of leadership you want in the dressing room.”
Among the numbers, Henrik has put in his most minutes ever in his career, and average of 19 minutes 47 seconds a night, up from 19:05, and the gain is almost entirely in even-strength play, averaging 16 minutes a night in 2013 compared with 15:19 a year earlier.
An advanced statistic called Corsi Relative QoC demonstrates the big jump in the strength of opponents. The Sedins, especially when Kesler was out, could be seen to routinely line up against opponents’ best players. Corsi Relative QoC shows this. The statistic measures the quality of competition of the opposition, using relative Corsi, which weighs players against their teammates.
This year, it is the Sedins, and linemate Alex Burrows, who lead the Canucks in Corsi Relative QoC at even-strength. Henrik is at 1.27, which ranks him among the top of all NHL forwards who have put in at least 15 minutes a game at even-strength, up there with the likes of David Backes from St. Louis and Minnesota’s Zach Parise.
To put it in context, Henrik Sedin had a Corsi Relative QoC of 0.33 last season and 0.21 the year before. In those seasons, Vigneault deployed the Sedins against weaker opponents, to increase their scoring potential, while Kesler – the 2010-11 winner of the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward – took on the hardest assignments.
With Kesler out, Vigneault has also shifted where and when he plays the Sedins. Last year, in a radical move, out of Canucks faceoffs at even strength in the offensive or defensive zones, the Sedins took about 80 per cent of their draws in the offensive zone – to increase their potential to score. That was when Kesler, and Manny Malhotra, were around to handle the defensive zone faceoffs. Well, Malhotra is also gone, and now the Sedins zone starts have been pared back to about two in the offensive end from one in the defensive end – which is still the most on the Canucks, but far less than last year.
“Those guys thrive whether they play 15 minutes or whether they play 25,” Weise said on Tuesday, when most of the team did yoga but did not practise. “They’re just on a different level.”