The Vancouver Canucks are off to an improbable 4-2-0-0 start and played their final game of a six game road trip tonight that many thought would quickly position the Canucks in the bottom tenth of the league – sitting in a prime seat for the draft lottery. Instead, the team has conquered Eastern Conference juggernauts including the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the latter without Elias Pettersson in the line-up. Could the Canucks continue their winning ways on the road in Winnipeg, or did Probability Hockey Gods help bring their misleading record back down to earth? Lets check it out.
Probabilities for tonight's games pic.twitter.com/Kg5Xzd7M3X
— dom boo-szczyszyn 👻 (@domluszczyszyn) October 18, 2018
The correct take,
Nobody in their right mind thinks what the Canucks are doing is sustainable. But you can bloody well give them credit for battling hard against superior competition.
— Jason Brough (@JasonBroughTSN) October 17, 2018
After a brief flurry of shots from the Canucks to start the game, the team couldn’t handle the aggressive forecheck and neutral zone defensive style of the Winnipeg Jets during the first period. The Canucks only managed a few controlled exits and a handful of controlled entries during the opening 20 minutes. The lack of organization which is on display below resulted in the Jets pummeling the visiting Canucks in shot attempts, 21-11.
I was worried the PP entries would be a problem without Elias Pettersson, but this was an absolute disaster. pic.twitter.com/3LfJMDQSkz
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) October 19, 2018
With Alex Edler in the box serving one of his three minor penalties on the night, the makeshift penalty killing crew forgot about Patrick Laine who has all the time and space he needs to one time this sweet Blake Wheeler royal-road saucer dish home to make it 1-0 for the Jets!
The Laine special pic.twitter.com/0jXm3dZWz5
— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) October 19, 2018
After struggling during his first three games in which he spent nearly exclusively with Erik Gudbranson, Derrick Pouliot has been moving the puck incredibly well during his last three games. He’s been meshing well with Troy Stecher lately and it showed tonight as the pairing was the only one to finish with a positive shot share for Vancouver.
Speaking of Pouliot moving the puck, how about this pass, hitting Bo Horvat in stride with speed to burn through the neutral zone, slick move on the Jets defender with the nice finish! Horvat ties the game at one with his fourth goal of the season!
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 19, 2018
Nearly five minutes into the third, with the Jets on the power-play, Bryan Little sneaks past Chris Tanev and fools Anders Nilsson with a backhand shot going against the grain to make it 2-1 Jets.
— Dan Riccio (@DanRiccio650) October 19, 2018
The third goal against was a tough one for me. Erik Gudbranson chases the hit in the corner where there is absolutely zero danger, and not only takes the wide lane back to the front of the net, but is beat there by Andrew Copp (the forward he hit) who taps in the crucial 3-1 goal.
Gudbranson finished, yet again, with a team worst shot-share among defenders at just under 37% in the game. The countdown is on! Seven games down, 239 to go on the fresh three year deal.
Guddy adding to the hitZ count though! pic.twitter.com/4wy2xtnXWI
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) October 19, 2018
Neither Ben Hutton or Gudbranson looked any better on the 4-1 goal late in the third. This goal is a disaster, if Hutton is going to make that read, he has to be certain he can block that pass or its going to end up in the back of the net, and that’s exactly what happened.
Just to be fair on that 4-1 goal, everyone pretty much looked like poop on that play, not just the d-men. Entire face-off situation turned into a disaster of non coverage. pic.twitter.com/HJeM3cbjgK
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) October 19, 2018
On the bright side, at the beginning of the year, even the most optimistic Canucks fan would take the 4-3-0-0 record after seven games with this schedule. Regression/reality hit the Canucks tonight, this style of play is clearly not a sustainable model for winning, but some young players are showing signs of improvement, and I’ll take that.
- Chris Tanev picked up the pace late to finish with a team leading controlled exit rate of 43%
- Alex Edler continues to struggle moving the puck
- Gudbranson, team low controlled exit rate, team high failure rate. I thought the healthy Guddy was supposed to be better? He’s somehow gotten worse.
- Props to Tim Schaller on gaining the offensive zone ten times tonight, six with control. After a slow start in the preseason, Schaller’s been displaying he can be a serviceable forward. Clearly, this type of contribution gaining the zone isn’t sustainable, but it’s encouraging to see he’s capable with the puck.
- Other than Schaller and Baertschi, this type of performance simply isn’t going to get it done in the NHL. Five forwards without a controlled entry isn’t going to cut it.
- Nikolay Goldobin continues distributing the puck at an elite level, how many plays does this guy need to create to earn your respect? He’s currently generating 20.01 primary shot assists/60, which tops Henrik Sedin’s team leading rate from last year of 15.92/60 by a mile. As the sample grows, his level of play is becoming more impressive, and he hasn’t slowed down without Elias Pettersson.
- Granlund, yikes!
- Schaller has been effective in the neutral zone defensively and it’s showing as the pace of the game slows down considerably while he’s on the ice. It’s what he’s paid to do and he’s getting it done.
- Jake Virtanen’s entry and shot numbers may be down so far this season, but his defensive contributions and puck distribution numbers are up and it’s encouraging. Last year I think we can all agree he was a little, we’ll say, one dimensional. So far this season he’s averaging over 11 primary shot assists/60 which is up from last years rate of 6.57, which was good enough for last place among Canucks forwards. Jake has also been a consistent presence in the neutral zone on the defensive side of the puck. Whether he’s breaking up plays or forcing dump-ins, he’s weaponizing his speed for the benefit of the team. Two-way Jake is blossoming and should continue to do so under Travis Green who deserves some credit for his unconventional development techniques. For a player as unique as Virtanen, perhaps the consistent tough love approach is exactly what he needed.