The Canucks have just one game in the books in their 2017-18 season, and you’d be surprised how many storylines that one game could generate. There was the Boeser snub, the new playing style, the even strength delpoyment, and the Horvat unit starting power plays, to name a few. Still, there are more things that caught my eye that I felt warranted deeper analysis.
One such aspect was the Canucks’ penalty kill against a powerful Oilers squad whose conversion rate was fifth best in the NHL last season. Since then, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have only gotten older and scarier. Still, the Oilers were held to but one goal on five man advantage opportunities, and it wasn’t even McDavid’s top unit that converted.
The real story here, for me at least, is the discrepancy in both look and results between two different groups of Vancouver penalty killers.
The PK units were broken into three forward tandems, and two defensive pairs – these stayed largely stable unless one of the penalty killers was the one serving the penalty. The units looked like this:
- Brandon Sutter & Derek Dorsett
- Loui Eriksson & Markus Granlund
- Bo Horvat & Alex Burmistrov
- Alex Edler & Chris Tanev
- Erik Gudbranson & Michael Del Zotto
Because there were more forward groups than defensive groups, the four-man units were often mixed up, though Sutter/Dorsett played most frequently with Gudbranson/Del Zotto, and Eriksson/Grandlund played mostly with Edler/Tanev. Bo Horvat’s time was scaled back and bumped up only when Sutter was sitting in the box, while Burmistrov was hardly used at all. Here’s a PK network, created by Micah Blake McCurdy of HockeyViz.com
The biggest discrepancy (and this should come as no surprise) was between the two defensive pairings. Alex Edler had an excellent night on the PK, while Gudbranson and Del Zotto struggled. The differences in the numbers are jarring.
The rate at which the Oilers were able to generate shot attempts with Gudbranson and Del Zotto on the ice was able triple what they were able to do with Edler and Tanev on the ice. This becomes even more impressive when you see who they were each on the ice with.
Quality of Competition
We also have to be mindful of quality of competition when it comes to short handed time, because it is often the case that two different defensive pairings are out against two different units. This is certainly true in this case, and the results look even better for Edler/Tanev, and even worse for Gudbranson/Del Zotto.
You see, Edler and Tanev were charged with defending Edmonton’s top power play unit – the one containing Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, and Mark Letestu. There are three players on this unit that hit double digits in power play goals last season, and McDavid isn’t even one of them; instead, he was fifth in the league in power play assists.
And yet, the Edler/Tanev tandem completely stifled McDavid’s unit, keeping them to just three shot attempts over three and a third minutes of 4-on-5 time. They did this with a variety of different forwards and, as you’ll see below, Alex Edler deserves a ton of the credit.
Meanwhile, Gudbranson and Del Zotto got shredded by the second unit Patrick Maroon, Ryan Strome, Drake Caggiula, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who ended up scoring a goal against them. The Canucks pairing did manage to block a lot of shots, but were generally drowning in their own zone.
This opposition table (with data from NaturalStatTrick) uses Edler and Gudbranson as proxies for their pairings.
|EDLER COMPETITION||GUDBRANSON COMPETITION|
|VS||Pos||TOI With||CF||CA||CF% With||FF||FA||FF% With||VS||Pos||TOI With||CF||CA||CF% With||FF||FA||FF% With|
|Connor McDavid||C||3.35||2||3||40.0||2||3||40.0||Patrick Maroon||L||2.95||1||8||11.1||1||4||20.0|
|Leon Draisaitl||C||3.35||2||3||40.0||2||3||40.0||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||C||2.43||1||7||12.5||1||3||25.0|
|Mark Letestu||C||3.15||2||3||40.0||2||3||40.0||Ryan Strome||C||2.33||1||7||12.5||1||3||25.0|
|Milan Lucic||L||3.15||2||3||40.0||2||3||40.0||Drake Caggiula||L||2.18||0||7||0.0||0||3||0.0|
|Oscar Klefbom||D||3.12||1||3||25.0||1||3||25.0||Kris Russell||D||1.55||0||6||0.0||0||2||0.0|
|Adam Larsson||D||0.22||0||0||–||0||0||–||Matthew Benning||D||1.33||1||2||33.3||1||2||33.3|
|Patrick Maroon||L||0.22||0||0||–||0||0||–||Leon Draisaitl||C||1.17||2||2||50.0||2||1||66.7|
|Darnell Nurse||D||0.20||0||0||–||0||0||–||Oscar Klefbom||D||0.98||2||2||50.0||2||1||66.7|
|Matthew Benning||D||0.05||1||0||100.0||1||0||100.0||Connor McDavid||C||0.85||1||2||33.3||1||1||50.0|
|Drake Caggiula||L||0.02||0||0||–||0||0||–||Mark Letestu||C||0.52||1||1||50.0||1||0||100.0|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||C||0.02||0||0||–||0||0||–||Milan Lucic||L||0.08||0||1||0.0||0||0||–|
I have to say this in every article I write for the first couple of months of a season, and especially after only one game: there is a sample size alert! These are on-ice statistics, which means they are highly influenced by randomness and the play of teammates.
That said, I feel confident that even if these statistics don’t continue at these exact rates, they’ll continue to follow a similar pattern. To back that up, let’s look at something a little more granular.
Hand-tracking individual plays gives a greater degree of confidence in small sample sizes than on-ice stats do, because there are less extraneous variables involved that are likely to influence the results. That is, there’s less randomness in a play where it’s one player handling the puck than there is in one play where a teammate is handling it, in terms of the results we assign to the individual player.
What I did for this game (and hope to continuing doing whenever possible) is track all the PK puck touches for all the Canucks players. I marked down how they came to possess the puck (loose pucks, interceptions, steals), and what they did with it (passes, clears, turnovers). I did this for forwards and defencemen, but for now we’ll just look at the defencemen.
|#||Player||Pos||TOI||Touches||Takeaways||Zone Clears||Zone Passes||Giveaways|
|4||Michael Del Zotto||D||3.58||4||1||1||1||0|
Alex Edler, who has the least 4-on-5 TOI among this group, also had the most touches of the puck. He also had an astonishing number of takeaways, either by intercepting passes, or outright stealing pucks from opponents. He had three zone clears and five clean in-zone passes, with zero giveaways. His partner wasn’t nearly as efficient, which may surprise some. This was likely just an off-night for Tanev, who you wouldn’t normally expect to have more giveaways than takeaways (you can see his most egregious giveaway in the video below).
I’ve gone through the trouble of compiling some of Edler’s shorthanded plays from Saturday’s game. Take the time to appreciate a couple of them, in particular the steals off of Draisaitl and McDavid. He really had a fantastic night, and this should provide some video evidence of the “little things” that Edler often does but doesn’t get credit for, because people often focus on his glaring mental errors.
Then there’s Gudbranson and Del Zotto. To their credit, neither had an outright giveaway, but that’s really only because they hardly ever actually touched the puck. Whereas Edler and Tanev hardly let McDavid’s unit complete a play, Gudbranson and Del Zotto were completely at the mercy of the second unit, and usually only found relief when they were helped by a forward, or the Oilers made a mistake and cleared the zone themselves.
Again, this is only one game, but this isn’t just about the results. It’s about how helpless Gudbranson and Del Zotto looked out there. Their inability to break up plays, or to reach loose pucks really hindered their effectiveness against the noticeably weaker power play unit. Travis Green seemed reluctant to allow either Ben Hutton or Troy Stecher on the ice short handed (Hutton’s only PK time came when Alex Edler was sitting in the penalty box), but if this is what Gudbranson and Del Zotto are going to look like on a regular basis, they might as well given Hutton and Stecher a look.
We’ll see what happens when the Canucks play against Ottawa tonight at 7 pm. I’ll do my best to keep compiling both microstats and video on this as the season progresses. It should provide a very useful window into who excels at penalty killing and who struggles at it, since that can often be hard to quantify.
Opposition stats provided by NaturalStatTrick.com. All other advanced stats provided by Corsica.hockey.