The Canucks hit the All-Star break in a place few expected them to be at the start of the season: in the playoff hunt.
Admittedly, it’s still a long shot, with at least seven teams conceivably competing for two Wild Card spots, but the Canucks will take those odds. It helps that the Western Conference in general, and the Pacific Division in particular, is a hot mess. One hot streak to end the season could easily mean a playoff berth.
For the Canucks to go on that kind of hot streak, a lot of things will have to go right: Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko will need to provide excellent goaltending down the stretch; the defence needs to improve the transition game to spend less time in their own zone; and, with limited offensive depth, the Canucks can’t afford to have anyone’s offensive production slip.
There are many reasons why players would produce less as the season progresses. Players accumulate injuries throughout the season that they play through — few players are 100% by the end of the season. Others might struggle as he intensity picks up in the push for the playoffs.
I was curious to see if anyone on the Canucks roster has a history of slowing down late in the season, so I turned to Hockey-Reference, which has splits for each player pre and post-All-Star Game. While the All-Star Game isn’t the exact midpoint of the season, it’s a convenient one for our purposes.
There’s a general sense that after the All-Star Game is when things get serious. Teams that are pushing for the playoffs start to bear down and teams likely to finish on the outside begin wheeling and dealing in anticipation of the trade deadline. The Jake Muzzin trade, which happened on the Monday after All-Star Weekend, could be seen as the first shoe to drop in trade season.
So, let’s look at the Canucks: how have they performed in their careers in terms of points-per-game before and after the All-Star break?
For the most part, there’s minimal difference between players’ production before and after the All-Star break. The Canucks currently on the roster, on average, put up 0.02 points per game fewer after the All-Star break, which means that players are mostly the same early and late in the season.
There are a few outliers, of course, but they’re mostly the result of small sample sizes. Josh Leivo, for example, sees a huge jump in points-per-game after the All-Star break, but that’s in a sample of just 23 games. Likewise, Brock Boeser has a big dip, but in just 25 games.
For players with larger samples, there isn’t a huge range of change: Loui Eriksson has produced 0.04 points-per-game less after the All-Star break, while Derrick Pouliot has produced 0.04 points-per-game more.
But then we get to Antoine Roussel.
In his career, Roussel has 56 goals and 135 points in 350 games before the All-Star break. That’s 0.39 points per game, which is high-end third-line production, bordering on low-end second-line production. After the All-Star break, however, he has just 13 goals and 25 points in 109 games: 0.23 points per game, which is firmly in fourth-line territory.
That’s a pretty significant drop, and one that I can’t readily explain.
Roussel is having a solid first season with the Canucks, shuttling up and down the lineup and providing agitation and a pinch of scoring wherever he goes. He’s on-pace for 32 points, which would be a career high, and leads Canucks forwards in scoring chance differential at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The Canucks need players like Roussel, Loui Eriksson, Jake Virtanen, Sven Baertschi, and Markus Granlund to provide some secondary scoring down the stretch to supplement the primary scoring from Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser. If Roussel drops off, that will take a chunk out of their offensive arsenal.
Perhaps it’s nothing to worry about. Roussel’s drop off could just be statistical noise. It’s possible that Roussel will get opportunities in the top-six alongside Horvat or Pettersson and will score even more. It’s just something to keep an eye on.
As for Pettersson, we obviously don’t have any NHL data on him from after the All-Star break, but we can look to how he performed in the SHL last season. Prior to the date of the NHL All-Star break, Pettersson had 15 goals and 40 points in 32 games, for 1.25 points per game. After that, he had 9 goals and 16 points in 12 games, for 1.33 points per game. Then he put up 1.46 points per game in the playoffs.
Let’s just say that I’m not worried about Pettersson.