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Why haven't the Canucks gone back to the Lotto Line?

The Canucks went 8-0-1 with the Lotto Line together and have gone 5-3-2 since breaking them apart.
The Lotto Line of Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and J.T. Miller shone brightly for a nine-game stretch but haven't been put back together since.

For nine games, the Vancouver Canucks gave their fans what they wanted: the Lotto Line. 

The line of Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and J.T. Miller were the Canucks’ best line when they were first put together back in 2019 but various head coaches have been reluctant to reunite them since that season. Instead, they looked for ways to more evenly distribute the talents of these three forwards to make a more balanced top-six.

On January 6, head coach Rick Tocchet put the Lotto Line back together for a game against the New Jersey Devils and they erupted for five goals — one of which was overturned — en route to a 6-4 win over the Devils. 

They stayed together through January 22 against the Chicago Blackhawks, after which they were broken up again.

Canucks had a sparkling record with the Lotto Line together

In those nine games with the Lotto Line together, the Canucks had an 8-0-1 record and outscored their opponents 35-to-21. As for the Lotto Line itself, Pettersson had 10 goals and 16 points in those nine games, Miller had 5 goals and 13 points, while Boeser had a relatively pedestrian 3 goals and 7 points.

Since then, apart from a few brief stints here and there, the Lotto Line has remained apart.

That’s particularly surprising after the Canucks traded for Elias Lindholm. Many fans saw the Lindholm acquisition as giving the Canucks exactly the player they needed to keep the Lotto Line together: a two-way, second-line centre who could handle the tough match-ups while the team’s top stars racked up the goals.

Instead, Lindholm has bounced between the Miller and Pettersson lines, before seemingly settling with Pettersson and Nils Höglander on an all-Swede line. That’s left Miller and Boeser with Swiss army knife Pius Suter on their wing.

In the ten games since splitting up the Lotto Line, the Canucks are 5-3-2 — five wins and five losses — and have been out-scored 37-to-34.

The Canucks had so much success in that stint with the Lotto Line and have struggled since breaking them apart, so it would seemingly make perfect sense to put them back together. So, why on earth are Tocchet and the Canucks so stubbornly staying away from the Lotto Line? 

"If I broke that line up, I'd probably get killed in Vancouver."

One of the first things to note is that Tocchet seemed reluctant to put the Lotto Line together in the first place. Even when they immediately saw success against the Devils, Tocchet was tepid in his endorsement of the line.

“Why not put it together every once in a while?” said Tocchet. “We’ll see how long I’ll keep it together but sometimes it’s a shot in the arm for the team.”

Reading between the lines of many of Tocchet’s comments about the Lotto Line, it didn’t seem like he wanted to keep them together. As they saw continued success against the New York Rangers and then the New York Islanders, it was apparent that Tocchet only saw the Lotto Line as a temporary arrangement.

“They’re dominating,” said Tocchet after another win against the Islanders. “If I broke that line up, I’d probably get killed in Vancouver. So, right now, they’re staying together.”

Why wasn’t Tocchet a fan? It likely had more to do with the process than the results. 

The Lotto Line's underlying numbers took a nosedive

The results, for the most part, were great. Especially in those first games with the Lotto Line together, they were piling up points and the Canucks were winning, including a statement game against a powerhouse Rangers team.

Here’s the thing: the Lotto Line’s underlying numbers quickly began to suffer.

In seven of their nine games together, including that game against the Rangers, the Lotto Line had a negative corsi, indicating that their opponent had more shot attempts than the Canucks when the Lotto Line was on the ice at 5-on-5.

Looking at expected goals, which takes into account shot quality and not just quantity, the Canucks were out-chanced as well in those seven games.

It wasn’t just that the Lotto Line was out-shot but that they were out-shot significantly by teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and Chicago Blackhawks — teams at or near the bottom of the NHL standings.

In addition, after their initial burst of scoring, the goals dried up. The line started out strong in their first four games together, with the Canucks scoring 10 goals at 5-on-5 with the Lotto Line on the ice. But in their last five games together, the Canucks had just one goal at 5-on-5 with the Lotto Line on the ice.

Let’s put it another way. According to Evolving-Hockey, there have been 151 different line combinations that have spent at least 100 minutes together at 5-on-5. Among those 151 lines, the Lotto Line ranks 133rd in expected goals percentage at 42.99% and have the 18th-highest rate of expected goals against.

The Lotto Line has still outscored their opposition 11-to-4 at 5-on-5, partly because they’re all great finishers and partly because of fortunate bounces, but for a coach like Tocchet who prizes process above results, he can’t have liked what he was seeing.

What he likely has liked quite a bit, however, is Suter with Miller and Boeser.

The Miller line has dominated at 5-on-5 with Suter

The Lotto Line was offensively dynamic in their stint together, scoring 5.99 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. That ranks third among all lines that have played at least 100 minutes together at 5-on-5.

The line that is first in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5? Suter with Miller and Boeser, with 6.55 goals per 60 minutes, while allowing just 1.64 goals against per 60 minutes.

Beyond just the scoring, however, that line has controlled play at 5-on-5 far better than the Lotto Line, with a 70.04% expected goals percentage that ranks third among NHL lines, just behind the Edmonton Oilers’ powerhouse line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, and Zach Hyman.

Let’s put it in straight numbers: the Canucks have out-shot their opponents 62-to-31 and out-scored them 12-to-3 with Suter, Miller, and Boeser on the ice at 5-on-5.

They’ve out-shot their opponents by a 2-to-1 margin and out-scored them by a 4-to-1 margin. That’s huge.

As much as the recent run of games might be frustrating for Canucks fans from a results standpoint, there’s a reason why Miller has spoken so positively about how they’ve played 5-on-5 and there’s a reason why Tocchet is keeping that line together and not going back to the Lotto Line.

Canucks would rather have two strong top-six lines

So, where does that leave the third member of the Lotto Line, Elias Pettersson?

The early returns on his all-Swede line with Lindholm and Höglander have been positive. They’ve out-scored their opponents 5-to-2 in their brief time together at 5-on-5 and they have positive underlying numbers: a 59.46% corsi percentage and 59.20% expected goals percentage. 

Given enough time together, Pettersson, Lindholm, and Höglander could form a solid top-six line that would give the Canucks a formidable one-two punch with the Miller line, not to mention the outstanding third line that is the Good Job Boys once Dakota Joshua returns from injury.

Having two top-six lines that can out-possess, out-shoot, out-chance, and out-score their opponents is far more valuable than one line that can’t out-possess, out-shoot, or out-chance their opponents, but might out-score them if everything continues to go their way.

While Canucks fans could still see the Lotto Line at times this season, it’s understandable why Tocchet and the Canucks coaching staff are instead trying to create a different look for their top-six forward group.