The New Malhotra

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One of the Canucks’ few question marks entering the post-season was how they were going to replace the minutes played by injured centre Manny Malhotra, their go-to defensive zone forward over the regular season.  As we saw shortly after he was injured, those weren’t going to be easy minutes to replace:

Malhotra, despite his status as a depth player, was a key forward for Vancouver. His faceoff prowess rightly gets a lot of attention (1261 draws taken, 61.7% winning percentage) but honestly it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Malhotra plays 12:39 per night at even-strength (seventh among forwards) and 2:45 on the penalty kill (first among forwards). He plays tough competition, often with less than stellar assistance.  He starts in his own end a whopping 75.0% of the time, allowing players like the Sedins to feast on offensive minutes.

In the piece linked above, I suggested that Ryan Kesler would be asked to take on the bulk of Malhotra’s defensive-zone draws.  The reality has been different; Maxim Lapierre has been asked to take on most of that work.  Here are the Canucks’ three most-used faceoff men, ranked by zone starts:

  • Henrik Sedin, 62.1% of starts in the offensive zone
  • Ryan Kesler, 49.6% of starts in the offensive zone
  • Maxim Lapierre, 27.1% of starts in the offensive zone

This doesn’t mean that Lapierre is handling the entirety of Malhotra’s work load: he has taken on a lot of the defensive zone work, but he isn’t taking on the penalty-killing time or all the even-strength work.  Those duties have fallen to Ryan Kesler, as a quick comparison of his regular season and playoff numbers confirms:

  • Even strength: 17:15 per night vs. 14:18
  • Penalty kill: 3:10 per night vs. 2:33

I haven’t been as blown away by Kesler’s playoffs as others have been; he didn’t have a great round one offensively and it was only thanks to a great on-ice save percentage that he managed to hold his own defensively versus the Toews line (he was out-chanced).  That said, he’s doing a good job playing a ton of minutes for the Canucks: no other player who made it past the first round has played more than his 23:41 per night, and he’s done a good job of helping the Canucks compensate for the loss of Malhotra.