In his post-game presser, John Tortorella answered a question about the powerplay the same way I might have:
“Yeah, it could have helped us tonight. It wasn’t good tonight. Other night’s it’s been good, but tonight it wasn’t good.”
It may have drawn a bit of surprise from some commentators. Canucks powerplay… good? But they’re clicking at just 9.3% on the season! They were 0-for-3 against Detroit and have scored just 4 powerplay goals on the season. That doesn’t seem particularly good. The problem is that “good” too often conflates with “results” in the narrow minds of broadcasters and fans that focus all too often on what happens in a small sample. Leading up to the game, Tortorella made some points about the shots and chances the Canucks have been getting with the man advantage. He says some interesting things and it’s worth a read.
The Canucks powerplay success rate was pretty brutal in the 48-game season, and it’s been pretty brutal this season, but I’d say that the two powerplays are by no means similar. I can’t speak directly to Xs and Os because that’s not exactly what I do, but the entries appear cleaner and the Canucks are generating a tonne more shots:
Here are the 5v4 shots per 60 minutes and goals rates, dating back to the beginning of 2008, from Hockey Analysis:
|5v4 Shots||5v4 Goals|
|2008||50.4 (8th)||5.85 (15th)|
|2009||50.0 (12th)||5.60 (24th)|
|2010||53.1 (9th)||7.41 (5th)|
|2011||55.9 (5th)||9.20 (1st)|
|2012||55.4 (3rd)||6.99 (4th)|
|2013||43.7 (22nd)||5.33 (20th)|
|2014||63.3 (4th)||3.53 (26th)|
There are two takeaways from this:
- The first is that in every year the Canucks have had a declining Shots per 60 rate, they’ve also had a declining goals per 60. The only (completed) year that somewhat bucks the trend is if you look at the team rankings from 2011 to 2011, when they jumped from 5th to 3rd in shots, but declined from 1st to 4th in goals. Fairly noisy, but if you looked at only the rates and not the ranks, you wouldn’t be surprised by the drop from one year to the next.
- Second takeaway is that the team is usually pretty close in shots rate and goals rate, as far as ranking goes. The biggest gap over an 82-game season is 12 rungs in the latter, while they’re 22 so far in the early going. While it’s very possible that the shots rate slinks back closer to the the high 50s, I envision no scenario where the Canucks finish the season shooting just 5.6% on the powerplay.
Just to further the point about shot rates and goal rates, if you look at a three-year sample between 2010 and 2013, the difference in shooting percentage was about 6 percentage points between Edmonton (14.65%) and Columbus (8.71%). If you look at the 48-game sample, the difference is about twice times as large. Washington scored on 20.5% of shots last season, while Carolina was just 9.48%.
(This leads to the question… how the heck did Columbus have such terrible shooting numbers between 2010 and 2013?)
The lesson isn’t “shoot a lot, and you’ll have success”. There’s some happy balance between taking shots from anywhere, and actually having a high shooting rate. It’s easy to dismiss that Canuck shots haven’t been of quality and they need to be better there, but I don’t think that you can work with such a high powerplay shot rate without getting some very quality looks. If all you did was take shots from the point, there’s a better chance of those shots being blocked, or missing the net, or easily recovered by the defence or goalie.
The lesson is “if you’re getting a lot of chances, you’re probably taking a lot of shots”. Vancouver’s favourite Oilers blogger mc79hockey had a fun post about this and thinks there’s some indication that teams are increasing their focus on shot-generation. Tortorella’s quote makes me think that the Canucks aren’t going to try too many different things on the powerplay, since it really has been working. It has the skeletal structure of some of the better powerplays we’ve seen in the NHL, and there’s no need to change the approach.
I mentioned in the post-game that the Canucks took just two shots in 4:54 of 5v4 time, which works out to 24.5 shots per 60 minutes, well down from how the team was doing going into the night. It’s why I agreed with what he said “wasn’t good tonight, has been good other nights” was Tortorella’s angry, monosyllabic way of essentially saying “trust the process”, one of coach Alain Vigneault’s favourite tropes.
It was apparent that last season the Canucks had a stagnant powerplay, and I don’t think it’s fair to compare to the two, particularly since they’ve replaced the coaching staff. That, on its own, hasn’t led to a super successful powerplay, and neither has letting Jason Garrison fire bombs from the point all night like people were demanding last season, but it’s clear this powerplay is headed in the right direction, game against Detroit aside.
The game against Toronto Saturday should be a fun test. The Leafs are essentially the opposite in the early going. On the penalty kill, the team has given up a tonne of shots, but few goals relative to those shots. Interesting test from both clubs.