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Photo Credit: Canucks / Twitter

Comparing The Team’s October 2018 Performance With That Of Past Octobers

October of 2018 has come and gone and the Vancouver Canucks have defied all odds—ending the month at the very top of the Pacific Division standings. Enthusiastic—if cautious—optimism is running rampant in Vancouver, with visions of playoff berths dancing in fans’ heads. The hype is real, but it does raise the question of whether this edition of the Canucks is truly doing any better than the previous rosters that ended up in the league’s basement by April.

Who better to address that query than cold, hard, unhypeable statistics? We’ve compiled the Canucks’ October stats from this season and the last four—which include three lottery finishes and one playoff appearance, for comparison’s sake—in order to answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: How Good Are The 2018/19 Vancouver Canucks, Really?

 

First, a quick refresher on how the previous four seasons ended to add a bit of context to the comparisons.

 

Final Results

2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
101 Points (2nd in the Pacific, Lost in First Round) 75 Points (6th in the Pacific) 69 Points (7th in the Pacific) 73 Points (7th in the Pacific) To Be Determined!

 

 

Points

October 2014 October 2015 October 2016 October 2017 October 2018
7-3-0 (14 Points) 5-2-4 (14 Points) 4-4-1 (9 Points) 6-3-2 (14 Points) 8-6-0 (16 Points)

 

The 2018 Canucks have earned more points than any other October edition of the team in recent memory, but they’ve also played 14 games—most in the league, something that goes a long way toward explaining their current perch atop the Pacific Division. A more meaningful statistic for this exercise is Point Percentage, a measure of the percentage of available points a team actually earned.

 

Point Percentage

October 2014 October 2015 October 2016 October 2017 October 2018
.700 .636 .500 .636 .571

 

The Point Percentage of the 2018/19 Canucks paints a very different picture than their point total or place in the standings. This edition of the team simply isn’t earning points at the same rate that they did the last time they made the playoffs—in fact, their rate isn’t even as good as it was in 2015 or 2017 when the Canucks finished near the bottom of the Pacific. It’s barely above their 2016 percentage, and that season saw them end up with the second-worst record in the league.

 

Goal Differential

October 2014 October 2015 October 2016 October 2017 October 2018
+4 +6 -7 +5 -4

Goal Differential is probably the least meaningful statistic in this article when it comes to comparing Octobers. With so few games played, one or two blowouts can easily skew this stat in either direction. For example, the 2016 Canucks were doing just fine until they ended the month by going -8 over the course of three games. October 27’s 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins hangs heavily over the 2018 Canucks in this regard.

That being said, the current edition of the Canucks are defined by their defensive struggles as much—if not more—than their offensive successes, so the team registering a minus in this category seems fitting. It might not mean much when it comes to comparing the team to past editions, but the eye test suggests it’s a stat that is indicative of what can be expected from the remainder of the season.

  

Powerplay

October 2014 October 2015 October 2016 October 2017 October 2018
23.7% 20% 10.7% 16% 17.5%

It makes sense to think of the power play in terms of Pre- and Post-Newell Brown eras, as the assistant coach rejoined the team in the summer of 2017 and has been largely responsible for that side of the special teams ever since. Brown’s influence seems to have righted a powerplay that had abysmal returns in the 2016/17 season, but the team’s success rate with the man-advantage is still nothing to write home about—and a far cry from where it was during their last playoff appearance—even with the emergence of Elias Pettersson.

 

Penalty Kill

October 2014 October 2015 October 2016 October 2017 October 2018
87.2% 90% 81% 83.7% 83.3%

The Penalty Kill in Vancouver has been steadily mediocre over the past few seasons, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. That being said, October has also seen injuries to key penalty killers like Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter, and Jay Beagle, so there’s some reason for optimism. When those players return, the team’s results on the PK should improve—and perhaps even approach the level of a playoff quality team.

 

Faceoff Percentage

October 2014 October 2015 October 2016 October 2017 October 2018
45.5% 52.2% 48.5% 52.9% 48.2%

I had hoped to see evidence of the “Manny Malhotra Effect” in this category, but it’s just not there. Fortunately, faceoffs are relatively random at the best of times, and one month represents a small sample size, so it’s best to take these numbers with a grain of salt. The Canucks’ four-point drop from last October to this one can easily be chalked up to Jay Beagle’s injury and Elias Pettersson still figuring out this part of the game.

 

Shot Attempt Percentage (Corsi For %)

October 2014 October 2015 October 2016 October 2017 October 2018
50.93% 46.75% 46.84% 50.12% 44.96%

 First, a word on this “enhanced” stat for those readers who are, like me, a bit analytically illiterate. What NHL.com refers to as “Shot Attempt Percentage” is more commonly known as “Corsi For” Percentage. If that’s still not ringing any bells, the stat represents the percentage of the total shot attempts a team makes versus those made by their opponents. For the purposes of this stat, “shot attempts” are considered to be actual shots on net, those that missed the net, and blocked shots. Overall, it’s a measure of possession—with the idea that the team that makes the most attempts on net is likely in possession of the puck more often and doing a better job of controlling the play. If a team spends a lot of time with the puck in their opponent’s zone, they’re more likely to win the game, so this stat can typically demonstrate a team’s actual ability level quite well—even over a relatively small period of time.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t bode well for the 2018 Canucks. Their SAT% is lower than that of the last four editions of the team at this point, and it’s also the fourth-worst in the league. In other words, the Canucks—and in particular, Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat—are making the most of their opportunities when they get them, but the team as a whole is not controlling the play the majority of the time. This suggests that, as the season winds on, the losses might start to pile up in Vancouver, even if Pettersson and Horvat keep scoring.

 

Conclusions

Fans of the team have every right to be excited about this young and dynamic edition of the Vancouver Canucks, but any serious optimism should be dampened by a look at these numbers. In reality, the key difference between the Canucks’ performance in October of 2018 and the last three Octobers is the number of games played. Statistically, the team is doing a fair bit worse than last year’s squad—and their numbers aren’t all that much better than those of the basement-dwelling 2016/17 edition.

Yes, injuries have been a major factor, but they always are in Vancouver. Meanwhile, the Canucks have been buoyed by hot starts from Pettersson and Horvat—along with above-average play from the goaltending—and that’s no doubt earned them a few more points than they might rightly deserve. In other words, don’t put your money on the Canucks making the playoffs this season quite yet—they’re still more likely to end up competing in the Jack Hughes lottery than competing for the Stanley Cup in 2019.

  • Killer Marmot

    The Canucks played some tough teams in October, including Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Winnipeg, Boston, Washington, and Minnesota. And they filled up the infirmary doing.

    Given that this team was supposed to one of the worst in the league this season, I’m pleased.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      Yeah, but statistics say you shouldn’t be. Me, I think I’m too old and set in my ways to wade through the mountain of statistics that we get assaulted with here every day. I just enjoy watching this exciting young team play, and so far, succeed. I’m not an NHL GM, so I really couldn’t care less about the advanced metric stats, as long as the kids play entertaining hockey and keep winning.

      • Killer Marmot

        I could, to a first-order approximation, be called a statistician, which makes me a huge skeptic regarding statistical arguments. There are endless ways to impart spin on the ball.

  • Killer Marmot

    The Canucks have allowed 4 open-net goals so far, while scoring none in one opportunity.

    Discount those — which are a case of the coach trying to win rather than protect his goal differential — and the -4 goal differential evaporates.

  • Brock Hard

    I don’t really get where everyone keeps getting the “above average goaltending” from. Markstrom has a .911 SV%, Nilsson has a .912 SV%. If you look at goalies who have played at least 3 games this year, that puts them at 25th and 26th in the league. Not exactly “above average”.

    • Cageyvet

      Mostly by watching, which gives the stats context. You also have only one stat here, I believe that the Canucks are at or near the top in shots surrendered from high danger areas. That means shots that are harder to stop. We’re also consistently outshot by the other team, so they face a heavy workload.

      I don’t know the answer to where they stack up in the league, but I do know that if their stats are average (I know, 25 and 26 on saves, just saying) for the league, on this team it means they are playing above average.

      • Bud Poile

        Markstrom sits tied for second in the league for wins-that is now without Edler and Tanev.
        The Canucks sit third in the Western Conference.
        That’s way above expectations and certainly above average,

    • tyhee

      There’s a stat used now called Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA). It’s determined by counting shots from designated areas of the ice, calculating how many goals on average would be scored on those shots and comparing how a goalie is doing with that average. If the figure is positive (above 0) then the goalie has saved more than the average, if negative (below 0) then the goalie has let in more than average.

      I hadn’t been keeping track of this stat but had read that the Canucks goalies were both easily above average for the season and that the team was giving up a very high number of high danger chances. I assume Markstrom’s game against the Avalanche last night with 6 goals on 29 shots scored terribly for him as his GSAA for the season is now below zero. Nilsson still is slightly above average on the year, largely from his excellent start in his first three games followed by three less impressive results.

      One easy place to look up goalie stats for this season is https://www.hockey-reference.com/leagues/NHL_2019_goalies.html

  • Killer Marmot

    Roget disparages the Canucks penalty killing at 83.3%, but that’s 8th best in the league. Hardly “mediocre”.

    Of course they get a lot of practice. They have taken 26 more penalty minutes than the opposition, 3rd highest in the league. Might I suggest that discipline presents an opportunity for improvement.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Past seasons’ October stats don’t have much to do with the present club. I personally am not a fan of pulling the goalie at all when 2 goals down and particularly with 2 or more minutes left. This explains the goal differential as someone else pointed out. Numbers can’t address everything because despite them this is the best Vancouver has looked in quite awhile.

  • rediiis

    Goal differential is a huge stat as the season moves on. Sure, if your AHL goalie has to play a few games and is shelled it will skew the results. I follow this stat the most when throwing a few at a parlay. The Canucks have gotten better this year with some of the veteran injuries. This must piss some in management off.

  • Bud Poile

    The team has come out of every October under Benning with a winning record.
    Last year when Bo and Sutter were injured they went into a fatal tailspin.
    This year it is Roussel,Pettersson,and Beagle injured early with Sutter,Nilsson,Tanev,Baertschi and Edler all out now yet the team continues to win.
    Goaltending and D have been way better,depth is finally a positive difference and Petey is magnificent.

  • Bud Poile

    The team has come out of every October under Benning with a winning record.
    Last year when Bo and Sutter were injured they went into a fatal tailspin.
    This year it is Roussel,Pettersson,and Beagle injured early with Sutter,Nilsson,Tanev,Baertschi and Edler all out now yet the team continues to win.
    Goaltending and D have been way better,depth is finally a positive difference and Petey is magnificent.
    No Sedins/Vanek (136 pts) and EP, Boeser and Baertschi all suffering significant injuries.
    Remarkable,really.

  • Cageyvet

    So maybe our place in the standings will resemble what we’ve seen in the recent past. How we got there already looks better to me, because of the roster changes.

    A younger squad doesn’t disappoint so much if they appear to be on the rise. An older squad with the same results, while they are on the decline, is painful.

  • Canuck4Life20

    The Canucks are fun to watch right now. The funnest they’ve been in a long time. To me, wins come secondary to watching Boeser, Horvat, Pettersson and others continuing to grow.

  • jaybird43

    No one seems to mention it, perhaps the stats don’t support it, but the goalies have looked better than last year. Maybe better team defence? Or truly the goalies: any thoughts people?