A demonstrable lack of finish is at the root of the Canucks’ recent power play woes

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
3 months ago
Maybe there’s more to conducting an NHL power play than that guy who yells “SHOOT!” every three seconds from the upper bowl realizes.
And maybe, just maybe, the Vancouver Canucks have been the perfect example of why that is of late.
It’s no secret that the Canucks’ own power play is struggling. Through the first four months of the season, Vancouver produced a very respectable PP success rate of 25%, good enough for eighth-best in the NHL during that same time period.
Then the calendar flipped over to February 2024, and everything changed.
Several factors played into what became a February to forget. The team went through an extended losing streak. Key players, like Dakota Joshua, exited the lineup with injury. But more than anything, February marks the point at which the Canucks’ special teams, and especially their power play, began to fall apart.
In the 24 games since February 1, the Canucks’ power play has cashed at a paltry 14.5% success rate, a full 10% drop and down to the fourth-worst rate in the NHL.
Much of the ink spilled in the mediasphere since has been dedicated to trying to figure out why that might be. Today, we’re here to suggest a solution to the problem that’s not actually much of a solution. More of an observation, really.
The Canucks’ power play is suffering from a clear and demonstrable lack of finish.
Which, on the surface, is easy enough to say. If they had more finish, they’d be scoring more goals on the power play. They’ve only scored 10 power play goals since February 1, tied for fourth-least in the league during that time. If they scored more, the power play would be better.
Simple, really. But there’s more to it than that.
In full disclosure, this little article began as an investigation into whether the Canucks were shooting any more or any less since their PP struggles began. The answer, as it turns out, is “not really.”
Prior to February, the Canucks produced shots on the power play at a rate of 55.57-per-60-minutes-of-power-play-time. That was a middle-of-the-road rate, good for 12th highest in the league.
Since February 1, the Canucks have produced shots on the power play at a rate of 52.16-per-60. That’s a drop, all the way down to 18th overall in the league, but it’s not a very significant drop, especially over a shorter sample size.
Maybe then, the answer is not shots, but the generation of scoring chances. After all, not all shots on goal are created equal.
Here, we find much of the same conclusion. Prior to February, the Canucks generated 64.3 scoring-chances-per-60 on the man advantage, good for eighth in the league. From February 1 onward, they’ve generated 61.36 scoring-chances-per-60, again a bit of a slide down to 13th place but an almost imperceptible one.
If the Canucks’ PP woes were the result of something, it wasn’t of them suddenly shooting less or generating fewer chances.
The same holds true of the truly good chances, those deemed “high-danger chances.”
On that front, the Canucks’ power play has been and remains one of the best in the world.
Prior to February, the Canucks generated high-danger chances at a rate of 29.16-per-60-power-play-minutes. That was the sixth-most in the league.
Since February 1, the Canucks have generated high-danger chances at a rate of 30.68-per-60. That’s a slightly higher rate, even if it only ranks eighth in the league over that same period.
Yes, you read that right. Despite the overall woes of the Vancouver power play since February, they’ve somehow been generating more high-danger chances with the man advantage.
They’re just not scoring on them.
And now you know how we wound up switching from writing about shooting to writing about finishing.
Here, the statistical signposts are as clear and present as they are troubling.
Using the bounds you’re no doubt quite comfortable with now, the Canucks held a power play shooting percentage of 16.53% prior to February, which is a high rate, but only sixth-best in the league during that same time period, so not so good as to alert the PDOrcs.
Since February 1, their power play shooting percentage has absolutely tanked all the way down to a scant 9.80%. That’s the fourth-worst in the NHL over that same time period.
From sixth-best to fourth-worst. That’s what has happened to the Canucks shooting (and scoring) rate on the power play over the course of the past 24 games.
The difference stands even starker when it comes to just those aforementioned high-danger chances. Here, admittedly, the Canucks have had issues all season long. As we already mentioned, they’ve been one of the best at generating high-danger chances since October. But from October-to-February, they only held a high-danger power play shooting percentage of 19.28%. That’s not all that much higher than their overall PP scoring rate, and it’s only the 21st-best in the league.
Nothing to write home about. But it would get worse!
Since February 1, the Canucks’ high-danger power play shooting percentage has been just 8.51%. That’s the fourth-worst in the league over that same time period. Only Philadelphia, Vegas, and Ottawa trail the Canucks’ rate of cashing in on high-danger chances on the power play since February.
And that’s a solution of sorts, at least to the question of “why aren’t the Canucks producing on the power play?”
It’s not that they’re not shooting enough. It’s not that they’re not generating enough chances. It’s not even that they’re not generating enough high-quality, high-danger chances.
It all comes down to finish. The puck gets worked around to the right spots and the right players, and those players are just, for whatever reason, not taking that final step of putting the puck in the net.
We realize that it’s not exactly much of a practical solution. What are we going to tell the Canucks in this situation: “score more?” “Shoot it at the net, not at the goalie?”
We’ll refrain from actually mentioning that in the scrums.
This could be seen as evidence of a mental component. Everyone is familiar with the concept of a hockey player “squeezing their stick” when times are tough, and times are tough for the entire Vancouver power play unit right now. The special teams struggle are officially A Narrative. It seems quite possible that as the problem has worn on, players have felt outsized pressure to fix it personally, and that’s let to the squeezing of sticks and the flubbing of shots.
More than anything, however, this statistical analysis shows that the issues might not run all that deep. The Canucks are still generating chances on the power play. They’re still moving the puck in the right way and to the right places.
As soon as they can figure out how to turn chances into goals, the problem is over.
But, like we said near the outset, that’s easier said than done.

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