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Canucks: An analytical deep dive into Elias Pettersson’s 5-on-5 struggles this season

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
5 months ago
The run of poor play for Elias Pettersson’s line at 5-on-5 continues, most notably the Vancouver Canucks two most recent games against the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators. These two games are perfect examples, as they have opposite endings, but the same disappointing 5-on-5 play. 

St.Louis Blues Game

Last night’s game saw Sam Lafferty back on the top line in the absence of Andrei Kuzmenko. The success of old was evidently gone for the Ilya Mikheyev-Elias Pettersson-Sam Lafferty trio. 
The trio were outshot 10-4 by opponents at 5-on-5. To truly show how ineffective they were offensively: they had the same amount of shots on goal as the fourth line, who saw 2:21 less ice time. 
Defensively, they allowed the most shots of all the Canucks’ lines by three shots. It’s even more concerning as they were able to avoid the stacked top line of the Blues, seeing the majority of their 5-on-5 time against St. Louis’ second line. 
This line allowed the lowest share of scoring chances (SCF%), high-danger scoring chances (HDCF%) and expected goals (xGF%) on the team. 
Individually, they all had lacklustre performances. 
Pettersson was the only one to register a shot and had the highest xGF of his two linemates. He and Lafferty both had a scoring chance, with Lafferty’s being high-danger, but it wasn’t much of a threatening play. 
For a play to be considered a “high danger scoring chance,” it must meet this criterion.
This play occurred at the 2:39 minute mark of the first period when Mikheyev sent his linemates on a 2-on-1. Lafferty carried it into the zone and attempted to pass it through Torey Krug to Pettersson. Krug blocked the pass with ease, and the play resulted in an attempt in the slot on the rush, earning enough points to be deemed a “high-danger scoring chance.”
After watching this game, it seems preposterous this line could have any resemblance to one that scored in a dominant win, right?

Ottawa Senators Game

Elias Pettersson found himself on the score sheet early and often in the Vancouver Canucks’ most recent game against the Ottawa Senators.
He found the back of the net off a loose puck in the crease, then put a stranglehold on the game with a powerplay goal to make it 5-0 before the second period.
On the surface, it was a phenomenal night for the Canucks’ top line, but the analytics were less kind toward their performance.
After all of the line juggling that occurred in the third period as Ottawa pressed Vancouver to equalize, the Ilya Mikheyev-Elias Pettersson-Andrei Kuzmenko trio finished the night with the worst share of xGF% among Tocchet’s four most-used (four or more minutes at 5-on-5 together) forward lines.
Through 5:27 of ice time, their line only registered two shots on goal, one being the five-on-five goal off the incredible individual effort from Pettersson. While on the ice together, they allowed the same amount of shots on goal and goals against as they produced.
With Pettersson, Mikheyev, and Kuzmenko on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks generated a team-low 0.08 xGF and 37.56 xGF%. This line had one scoring chance all game but allowed three, all of which were high-danger scoring chances. While the analytics paint a favourable picture of each skater’s individual performance, the sum of their parts resulted in disappointing numbers.
It seems as though one player may have been dragged down more by his linemates than the others.
Pettersson’s individual performance stood out. The Swede had four scoring chances, three high-danger scoring chances and led the team with the highest individual expected goals created (0.75 ixG), grading out as the best Canucks skater at five-on-five against the Senators. For context, Pettersson has only gone over 0.30 ixG twice this season, and his current average is 0.15 ixG per game.
Mikheyev and Kuzmenko struggled in a 6-3 win, registering two scoring chances each, with only one high-danger chance between the two and a combined ixG of 0.2. Mikheyev with 0.2 and Kuzmenko with zero.
Was this an outlier game? Or have these performances been happening lately?

Last Six Game 5-on-5 Analytic Dive

To follow along, click here for in-depth descriptions of what each analytics measure indicates.
Taking a look into the Canucks last six games, Pettersson’s line has ranked as the worst by xGF% relative to their teammates twice: The Blues, Senators and their game against the Dallas Stars (the teams only three losses over those six games.)
While the former first-round pick carried his linemates with three individual scoring chances, his wingers against the Stars, Mikheyev and Pius Suter, failed to register a single scoring chance combined. 
Two of these six games have his line ranked as the best analytical line for the Canucks, against the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators. 
Against the Sharks, Pettersson again had the most impactful individual performance relative to his linemates, finishing with five scoring chances, two high-danger scoring chances and 0.42 ixG. Mikheyev and Kuzmenko combined for three scoring chances, two high-danger and 0.2 xGF. 
Over this five-game span, Pettersson has played with Mikheyev, Kuzmenko, Suter and Lafferty. He has created more chances than his four linemates by 17 to 10, with seven high-danger chances to their six, all by himself. 
The Canucks finished 3-2-1 over this stretch.
Has this been happening all season?

2023-24 Season 5-on-5 Deep Dive

While Pettersson has been outproducing his linemates lately, he is having a dip in his production five-on-five compared to previous years.
Elias Pettersson’s previous career high 5-on-5 stats
Goals – 21
Assists – 35
Points – 56
Scoring Chances – 154
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 70 
ixGF – 16.25
His career-high watermarks were all set last year in the 2022-23 season.
Elias Pettersson’s 2023-2024 5-on-5 stats and pace after 38 Games
Goals – Six. On pace for 13.0
Assists – 15. On pace for 32.4
Points – 21. On pace for 45.3
Scoring Chances – 60. On pace for 129.7
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 26. On pace for 57.6
xGF – 5.39. On pace for 11.9
There’s an apparent decline here. The hockey world may not notice his production has slowed down as much as it has because of Pettersson’s lethality on the power play.
Pettersson is tracking to have the most goals and total points on the power play of his career. This has kept Canucks fans blinded to his 5-on-5 production dip. He’s on a similar point pace from his career-high 102-point season from last year, projecting for 99.7 as we approach the midway point of this season.
There has seemed to be a revolving door on the right side of Elias Pettersson’s wing throughout most of the season. The one constant for Pettersson this year has been Ilya Mikheyev on his left. 
The Russian winger has played on Pettersson’s wing since the first game of his season, on October 21st, against the Florida Panthers. This seems to have benefited the former Maple Leaf as he’s on track to shatter all his previous season-high stats and analytics, despite his recent individual dip in play.
Ilya Mikheyev’s previous career high 5-on-5 stats
Goals – 12 (2022-23 VAN)
Assists – 15 (2019-20 TOR)
Points – 25 (2022-23 VAN)
Scoring Chances – 110 (2021-22 TOR)
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 59 (2021-22 TOR)
xGF – 9.98 (2021-22 TOR)
Ilya Mikheyev’s 2023-2024 5-on-5 stats and pace after 34 games with Elias Pettersson
Goals – 10. On pace for 24.8
Assists – 10. On pace for 24.8
Points – 21. On pace for 49.7
Scoring Chances – 74. On pace for 178.5
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 39. On pace for 94.1
xGF – 6.5. On pace for 16.15
While the most likely reason for the growth is his attachment to the centreman, Mikheyev doesn’t seem to be the main problem as he is tracking to lap his previous career high in almost every individual category.
Whereas last season’s Pavel Bure Award winner, Andrei Kuzmenko, has had a disappointing start to the season compared to last.
Andrei Kuzmenko 2022-2023 5-on-5 stats
Goals – 21
Assists – 28
Points – 49
Scoring Chances – 136
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 64
xGF – 11.05
Andrei Kuzmenko’s 2023-2024 5-on-5 stats and pace after 32 Games
Goals – Five. On pace for 12.8
Assists – Seven. On pace for 17.9
Points – 12. On pace for 30.8
Scoring Chances – 34. On pace for 87.1
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 19. On pace for 48.7
xGF – 3.62. On pace for 9.3
It’s no surprise to any Canucks observer that last year’s near-forty-goal scorer needs to improve his game. Many believed his stats from last season were heavily inflated by “getting lucky” with his historically high shooting percentage.
At 5-on-5, the former KHL standout had a 22.58 shooting percentage last season. Including all strengths, Kuzmenko converted at a 27.27% clip.
His conversion rate at 5-on-5 has stayed around the same this season. While rocking a 21.74 shooting percentage at 5-on-5, his conversion rate on the power play has plummeted from 36.84% to 16.67%.
Maybe this is just who he is.
Kuzmenko is Pettersson’s most often linemate on the right wing, but with the multiple healthy scratches due to poor play, Canucks fans have seen Sam Lafferty get his shot on the top line.
Sam Lafferty Previous Career Highs
Goals – Eight
Assists – 12
Points – 20
Scoring Chances – 84
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 37
xGF – 7.89
His career-high watermarks were all set last year split between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2022-23 season.
Sam Lafferty Current 2023-2024 5-on-5 Stats & Analytics & Pace in 38 Games
Goals – Eight. On pace for 17.3
Assists – Eight. On pace for 17.3
Points – 16. On pace for 34.6
Scoring Chances – 41. On pace for 88.5
High-Danger Scoring Chances – 24. On pace for 51.8
xGF – 4.42. On pace for 9.5
Generally, in a bottom-six role, Lafferty has taken advantage of his promotion whenever given the opportunity in Vancouver to play with Pettersson. During his ten games on line one, Lafferty has four goals and two assists for six points. Analytically, the newly acquired Canuck registered 17 individual scoring chances, including 10 classified as high danger. 
Lafferty’s season without Pettersson looks very similar to the small sample size he has with him, but in 27 more games. He has 24 scoring chances and 13 high-danger chances without the star forward as his centre.
Two things can be true at once. Pettersson can be having a worse 5-on-5 season relative to his standards while also elevating every single one of his linemates he’s played with this season. 
Building chemistry on the ice is difficult when lines are constantly changing. Canucks fans watched Bo Horvat struggle with this for years before the acquisition of Tanner Pearson. Pettersson has found his Pearson in Mikheyev, but his right side needs consistency. 
What coach Tocchet is seeing at 5-on-5 is clearly not working. Ultimately, Pettersson’s line needs a play-driving winger who doesn’t need to rely exclusively on the 2019 Calder Memorial Trophy winner to generate offence. 
With being considered as a Stanley Cup contender, Patrick Allvin and Jim Rutherford have some work to do to find someone who can help bolster the game of their superstar, Elias Pettersson.

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