5 simple things the Canucks still need to get better at despite their hot start
Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
There’s not much not to like about the way in which the Vancouver Canucks have started the 2023/24 season.
They’ve emerged from the early-season five-game road trip that followed their home opener with a record of 4-2-0, which is probably a better result than most were expecting. The eight points they’ve gleaned from that are good enough for second place in the Pacific Division and a tie for third place in the Western Conference.
The Canucks are also succeeding as individuals. Elias Pettersson has 10 points in six games, placing him in ninth place overall for NHL scoring and fourth overall for points-per-game. His eight assists are third in the league. Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith are both among the league leaders in save percentage. With almost 100 minutes played and zero goals against, Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek have been one of the most dominant pairings in the entire NHL.
And yet, as good as things have been, they can always be better.
Below are four fairly simple statistical measures that show major areas of improvement for the Canucks as a team.
Active sticks and takeaways
The Canucks have not played bad defensively. Their 2.50 goals-against-per-game is the seventh-lowest in the NHL, and that’s with a still-unsettled blueline behind the Hughes/Hronek pairing.
But if there’s one particular skill that the Canucks lack on the other side of the puck, it’s those active sticks that get into lanes and disrupt passes.
One early season takeaway is that the Canucks aren’t very good at taking away the puck.
|Canucks Takeaways||Canucks Takeaways Per 60||NHL Rank|
With just 4.67 takeaways per 60 minutes of play, the Canucks are one of the worst teams in the early goings of the 2023/24 season at picking pockets and forcing turnovers.
That could be forgiven if the Canucks were a better possession team, as more time with the puck means fewer opportunities to take it away from the opponents. But the Canucks aren’t that good of a possession team, with their overall Corsi percentage of 47.18% also near the bottom of the league (seventh-lowest).
It’s not just active sticks here. There are other factors that contribute to takeaways, like on-ice awareness and timing. But the end result is the same, and that’s that teams playing against the Canucks complete a higher portion of their attempted passes on average. Completed passes eventually add up to goals against, and this is one area that the Canucks could improve upon to ensure their GA stats stay low.
Drawing more penalties
Good news, everyone! The Vancouver Canucks have the third-most-lethal power play in the entire NHL at third overall with 35.3%. That’s not just hot, that’s downright scorching.
Now comes the bad news: the Canucks don’t draw enough penalties to fully take advantage of all those man advantages.
The results here are almost inverse. Whereas the Canucks have the third-best power play in the league, they draw the second-least amount of penalties, and thus receive the second-fewest power play opportunities.
|Canucks Penalties Drawn||Canucks Penalties Drawn per 60||NHL Rank|
|22||3.67||Tied for 2nd lowest|
Having drawn just 22 penalties in six games, the Canucks are clearly not doing some of the things it takes to garner power plays in this league. This could include moving their feet with the puck, going into the tightly-contested areas, and just plain ticking off opponents.
Of course, it does take two to tango when it comes to creating penalties, and it does sure seem as though the referees are a little reluctant to pull out their whistles in favour of the Canucks thus far.
But a rank of second-lowest in the league can’t be blamed entirely upon the refs. One way or another, the Canucks are going to have to draw more penalties, and find a way to spend more time on the power play in general. Due to their lack of opportunities and efficiency when they do get them, they’ve only spent 28 minutes on the man advantage, the third-fewest in the NHL.
Allowing fewer shots
Demko and DeSmith have played fantastic thus far, with each holding a save-percentage somewhere in the top-15 of NHL goaltenders and looking even better as far as the eye-test is concerned.
But goalies can only take you so far, and a team that consistently forces their goaltending to face more shots against than is necessary is playing with fire. At that point, it’s an odds game, and odds are that an excess amount of shots will eventually result in more finding their way into the net.
That’s why it’s a problem that the Canucks allow so many shots against per game.
|Canucks Shots Against per Game||NHL Rank|
In this case, it’s not just how far down the statistical category the Canucks are, but how far away they are from the upper echelons. The best teams in the league at preventing shots, like New York, Carolina, and Los Angeles, are averaging somewhere in the mid-20s for their nightly shots against. The Canucks’ 33.2 is more in line with the dregs of the league, and not too terribly far off the San Jose Sharks’ NHL-worst 37.6 average.
Even if Demko and DeSmith continue their strong play, more shots against will inevitably lead to more goals against. Shots that never happen can’t become goals.
Taking more shots
On the flip-side of that last section comes this one.
The Canucks aren’t great at preventing shots, and they’re not great at taking the, either.
With just 26.3 shots per game, the Canucks shoot the fourth-least in the entire NHL, and a full ten shots per game fewer than the league-leading Colorado Avalanche.
|Canucks Shots per Game||NHL Rank||Canucks Shooting Percentage||NHL Rank|
This is especially frustrating, because when the Canucks do shoot, they’re quite good at it. The Canucks have the fourth-lowest amount of shots but the second-best shooting percentage in the league (just 0.1% behind the league-leading Kings). It stands to reason, then, that if they were to take more shots, they’d score a fair few more goals.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with efficiency. Shot selection is important, and a well-timed and well-aimed shot can be worth a dozen lesser shots. Again, however, the volume the Canucks are producing is more in line with the league’s worst — San Jose, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington — and a far cry from the league’s best.
It stands to reason that the rate of shots taken needs to get better if the Canucks want to keep scoring as much as they are.
Preventing high-danger chances
This is the big one.
If shots against inevitably turn into goals against, and shots for inevitably turn into goals for, then what can we say about the importance of high-danger chances?
Aside from the straight-up scoreboard, there may be no better measure of likely success in hockey than the ol’ HDCF% column. And, unfortunately, it’s one in which the Canucks have already sunk to the very bottom.
|Canucks High-Danger Chances For||Canucks High-Danger Chances Against||Canucks HDCF%||NHL Rank|
Again, the Canucks are in bad company here. The only two teams in the league with a HDCF% below 40% are the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks.
It’s really no big deal for the Sharks. They came into the year expected to be the worst team in the league with one of the worst bluelines ever assembled, and they’re playing right to that expectation.
The Canucks are a different kettle of fish. They’ve found success despite bleeding high-danger chances against, but that’s a strategy that is all-but-guaranteed to turn against them the longer they try to make it work.
There’s ample blame to go around here. There’s that unsettled blueline. There’s shuffling forward lines that are still learning their defensive responsibilities in Rick Tocchet’s system. There’s Tyler Myers.
But the point worth making is that if the Canucks continue to allow so many high-danger chances against, they’re going to eventually start allowing more goals against.
And nothing will put a damper on a hot start quicker than starting to let more goals into your own net.
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