Have the Canucks actually been good defensively under Rick Tocchet?

Photo credit:via Twitter @canucks
Noah Strang
1 year ago
When new head coach Rick Tocchet took on the Vancouver Canucks’ head coaching job, it was clear that things were going to change. Former bench boss Bruce Boudreau was known for his fast-and-loose style that led to plenty of opportunity for both teams. That was clearly not going to fly with the new hire.
“You can’t win this game if you’re gonna be at the bottom of those [defensive] categories,” Tocchet said in his introductory press conference. “And with that, there is structure. There’s some hard rules to keep the puck out of your net without sacrificing offence, don’t get me wrong, but you know, that’s one thing we all know has to get cleaned up here absolutely.”
While it hasn’t been a huge sample size (only eight games), that new emphasis on structure can be seen in the results on the ice. Improving defensively has been a clear focus and something that Tocchet is making sure everyone is aware of by going right back to the basics.
While it may not be showing up in the standings right now, the numbers suggest that Tocchet’s style has actually done wonders for the Canucks’ 5-on-5 defence so far. Judging by a number of different metrics, the Canucks have drastically reduced both the number and quality of scoring chances they’re surrendering.

The numbers behind the Canucks’ defensive resurgence

Would you believe me if I told you that since Tocchet took over, the Canucks haven’t only been good on defence at 5-on-5, but they’ve been one of the best teams across the entire NHL?
It’s true.
Since Tocchet took over behind the bench, the Canucks have done a 180 when it comes to almost every important defensive statistic. They went from allowing 31.68 shots against per sixty 5-on-5 minutes (26th league wide) to allowing just 24.68 over the last eight games, the second best mark in the league over that time.
Not only have they done a good job at cutting down the quantity of the shots, they’ve also done a good job at allowing fewer high-quality chances.
Under Boudreau the Canucks were allowing 13.26 high-danger chances per sixty minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. Fans will remember screaming at their TV as another Canucks defenceman was left helplessly defending odd man rushes. With Tocchet, that number has improved to 11.41, good for ninth league wide.
Using expected goals, an analytic that uses historical data from thousands of historical NHL data points to determine the probability of each shot turning into a goal, the Canucks have also seen a large improvement. They’ve gone from allowing 2.87 expected goals per sixty minutes (30th league wide) to just 2.22 with Tocchet’s system, sitting only behind Carolina and Vegas since January 22nd.
The process has gotten much better for the Canucks but that hasn’t helped them win more games. They’re still allowing 3.7 5-on-5 goals per game under Tocchet, 31st in the NHL just above the tanking St Louis Blues. Why is that?

Why are the Canucks still conceding so many goals? 

While the Canucks have been playing better defensively, that hasn’t stopped them from letting in lots of goals. They’ve allowed 35 goals in the eight games that Tocchet has been behind the bench, the most in the league despite some other teams having played an additional game.
One potential reason for that has been the goaltending. Much has been made this season about the Canucks’ goalie struggles and things have just gotten worse since Tocchet took over.
The Canucks rank comfortably last in the league with a team save percentage of 83.09% over that stretch, 3.82% behind the 31st ranked St. Louis Blues. In fact, the 32nd-ranked Canucks are further from the 31st-ranked Blues than the Blues are from the 15th-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets.
Below is just one of many recent examples of the goalies being less than stellar.
With Arturs Silovs making his NHL debut tonight against the New York Rangers, a team with a top ten offence by goals-per-game, it may be a while before the Canucks can rely on their goalie. However, now that Thatcher Demko is back skating with the team, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Still, the Canucks’ underlying defensive numbers are very encouraging and that’s something to celebrate. The fact that it hasn’t come at the price of 5-on-5 scoring is also great to see. While there’s still lots of progress that needs to be made, especially on special teams, it’s an encouraging leap for a Canucks team that needs talking points to feel good about right now.

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