One of the advantages of being an Oiler fan living in Canuck territory is that I can evaluate the Vancouver team, and it's perception in the eyes of fans and media, with a (somewhat) impartial eye. Yes, being an Oiler fan, I despise the Canucks and wish nothing but pain and misery upon them, but being an outsider means that I'm in a better position to call BS as it relates to the Vancouver Canucks; and believe me there have been some ridiculous things written during this postseason and much of it has to with one player.
That player is Ryan Kesler.
This article may seem a bit untimely, but after having yet another Canuck fan tell me how great Ryan Kesler is and how he's the favourite to win the Conn Smythe, and then explain away his zero goal performance in the first round by him being "to busy shutting down Jonathan Toews," I can remain silent no longer.
Kesler's alleged "shutdown" of Toews has reached the status of legend among Vancouver fans and media, but the truth is that Kesler didn't shutdown Toews at all.
First off, in order to shutdown Toews and his line, Ryan Kesler would have had to be matched up against them. So the first question we must ask is; was Kesler hard matched against Jonathan Toews? Yes, he was. The head to head shift charts for games 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 show that Alain Vigneault played Kesler against Toews as often as possible.
Next we look at the box scores for the players in the series. Kesler scored zero goals and four assists for four points in seven games. Toews scored one goal and three assists for four points in seven games. Patrick Kane scored one goal and five assists for six points in seven games. So the box scores alone should blow a sizable hole in the theory that Kesler shutdown the Toews line. Patrick Kane outscored him, and Jonathan Toews matched him. Not exactly what I would call "shutdown."
In the regular season Jonathan Toews had a shooting percentage of 13.73 percent. Patrick Kane shot at 12.50 percent. At even strength, the Toews line had a collective shooting percentage of 10.11 percent in the regular season.
In the playoffs against Vancouver, Toews' shooting percentage dropped to 5.26 pct while Patrick Kane saw his plummet down to an abysmal 4.55 pct. The Jonathan Toews line had their shooting percentage free fall all the way down to 1.72 percent at even strength.
What is responsible for this phenomenon? There are two possibilities. Either Ryan Kesler and his linemates are the defensive gods among men that the Vancouver media would have you believe and are capable of reducing the shooting ability of one of the NHL's best lines by a factor of six, or Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had a remarkable run of bad luck. Which is the truth? To scoring chance data we go!
The total scoring chances for the Canucks (here) and Blackhawks (here) show that Toews and Kane both had positive scoring chance differentials while Kesler finished negative. If Toews and Kane had finished with negative differentials, or if Toewshadn't been on the ice for more ES chances for than anyone else in the series, then it would be reasonable to say that Kesler did a remarkable job at limiting the production of Toews and Kane; but they didn't, and Ryan Kesler in no way, shape or form shutdown Toews.
Indeed, given the fact that Chicago actually outscored Vancouver in the series, and given how close the first three games were, it's likely that the Canucks lose that series in fewer than seven games if Kane and Toews had shot closer to their regular season percent. The Vancouver Canucks were luckier to win the series than their fanbase realizes.
It's too bad that "Kesler Shuts Down Toews" fits the narrative of the Vancouver media better than "Toews Gets Unlucky."
Even if it is completely and utterly false.
Update: As this is currently the article my highest comments:reads ratio (I know, I know. Me and my stats), it would appear that I've struck a bit of a nerve. I honestly didn't expect this much controversy, but I welcome all continued feedback. I just ask that any further comments be classy and logical; and yes, I'm a "bitter, jealous, cynical Oiler fan" so if that's all you're planning on saying please don't bother.