After winning their season opener, the Canucks have lost their last three games, while being outscored by a combined score of 13-4. A big issue for the team in the early days of the season has been special teams as their power play has failed to convert and their penalty kill has been leaking goals.
In 2019-20, the Canucks were deadly when a man up, as they managed to convert 24.15% of the time — good for fourth-best in the league. It was a big reason why the team was so successful and was a huge factor in their playoff run as they scored 14 of their 48 goals while on the power play.
Through their first four games this season, the team has gone 0-15 with the man advantage, a concerning number considering the team’s elite offensive talent and history of success. Seeing as this season is so short and every game is against a division rival, the team cannot afford to lose early-season games while they iron out the kinks.
While JT Miller — a huge puzzle piece for the power play unit last season — missed the first three games of the season, he returned on Monday against the Flames and the results were the same.
To find some ways that the power-play needs to change, I examined the game last season where the Canucks scored five power play goals against the Predators and found three possible fixes for the struggling unit.
Attack with Speed on the Rush
The Canucks power play has been too predictable as they pass the puck around the perimeter while the defence is set up and waiting for them. In Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, former Canuck Chris Tanev had eight blocks, many of which came while the Flames were shorthanded as he just crouched in shooting lanes and absorbed pucks.
Watch the clip below from the game against Nashville last season. The second unit is on the ice but they attack the offensive zone with speed, forcing defenders to commit and creating a numbers mismatch. While the initial rush is stifled, the puck ends up back at the point and the Predators don’t have their defence set up.
The Canucks end up with a point shot with plenty of traffic in front and the result is a goal. Even though the goal didn’t come off the rush, it was a direct product of it. Considering that it’s usually Quinn Hughes — possibly the player most suited to lead a creative attack in the entire league — bringing the puck up the ice, the Canucks need to use this strategy much more often rather than allowing the opponents’ defence to set up.
Create Net-Front Chaos
With JT Miller out for the first few games, the Canucks have been using Nils Höglander in the net-front position with Bo Horvat in the bumper spot of their 1-3-1 setup. Horvat has proven to be deadly in that spot in the past, using his strong shot to pick corners and his hand-eye to tip pucks on net. Miller’s return has spelled the end of Höglander’s time on the top unit, but even when their leading scorer from last season was added to the unit, they still couldn’t find the back of the net on Monday night.
Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser occupy the outside spots where they can best utilize their devastating shots to pick corners. While this has traditionally been the best way for the Canucks to score when on the man-advantage, the two have struggled to find their shots this season. Every player goes through slumps but the Canucks need to still be able to create offense when those two aren’t on their games.
One of the ways to do this is to cause chaos in front of the net and get pucks towards that dangerous area. It’s an ugly style of hockey but it would help the team bust out of scoring slumps and make it uncomfortable for opposing teams, especially their goalies.
On this goal against the Predators, the puck gets sent on net where both Boeser and Miller are crowding the crease. The puck gets whacked around and ends up on Miller’s stick where he’s met with a wide-open cage. Sometimes you need to get your hands dirty and too often this year the puck has just rotated around the perimeter while players stand and watch.
Give the Second Unit More Time
The Canucks first power-play unit has some amazing players, but on nights where it’s just clear they don’t have it going Travis Green should be quicker to switch groups. The additions of Nate Schmidt and Höglander this offseason mean two more players who are dangerous offensive weapons, and when combined with the best players from the unit last season the Canucks could field two dangerous power-play groups for the first time in a long time.
Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette both scored at very strong rates last season when given the chance to play with the man-advantage and Schmidt now offers a much better puck-moving option than an ageing Edler.
Now, this is not to say that Green needs to be splitting the time 50/50 but giving the second unit a few more opportunities could do the team some good. If the second unit manages to sustain pressure then Green could have the lotto line rested and ready to go for when the power play expires.
However they do it, the Canucks need to find a way to find some success with the man-advantage before the season gets out of hand. Pettersson has looked off his game early and if he needs to take some time to get his shot back Green needs to get creative and use some new strategies to get pucks in the back of the net.
#Canucks goal differential through four games:
At 5on5: Even
Special teams situations: -7
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) January 19, 2021
The Canucks now head home and get ready for six games against the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. They can’t afford to let these troubles continue through those games.
If this losing skid continues it will be a long, uphill battle to make the playoffs.
Got any ideas for the power play? Comment them below.