Canucks’ PK in crisis with NHL’s top power play in town on Tuesday

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
6 months ago
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Vancouver Canucks have a penalty killing problem. It’s not as bad as it was last season when it finished dead last in the National Hockey League. But considering the fact the team targeted this one particular area of the game in the off-season and spent significant money to upgrade, it’s more than a little troubling that 25 games into the new season the Canucks penalty kill is 25th in the NHL at 75%.
More than that, in the last 11 games since November 12th, the Canucks PK is in all too familiar territory at 68.8% giving up 10 goals in its last 32 short-handed situations. But where last year the penalty kill sunk the Canucks on far too many nights, this time around the Canucks have managed to keep their heads above water going 6-5 over their most recent 11 game stretch.
Saturday in Calgary was a perfect example. The Flames entered the night with just two power play goals on home ice all season and managed to torch the Canucks twice doubling their season total in the process. Calgary won the special teams battle, but the Canucks prevailed on the night.
Rick Tocchet has been protective of his penalty killing units on many nights this season, but even the head coach recognizes that things are slipping. And he’s hoping the addition of Nikita Zadorov can give the team as a whole – but the penalty killing in particular – a much needed boost.
“(He’s) just a bigger body, he gets in people’s way,” Tocchet says of the team’s newest acquisition. “If you’ve got four penalties and you’ve got eight minutes and he can take three or four minutes of that, that’s really going to help the depth of our defence.”
Of his 17:35 of ice time in his Canucks debut, Zadorov spent 3:19 on the penalty kill. He and Tyler Myers were out together on Mikael Backlund’s goal that that got Calgary on the board and cut the Canucks lead to 2-1 midway through the first period.
While Zadorov left the front of the net to pressure Adam Ruzicka, a seam opened up for the Flames forward to thread a pass between Zadorov and Myers for a back door tap in. It was the kind of goal the Canucks surrendered far too often last season. They’ve been better about taking away the middle of the ice while shorthanded this season, but in recent games that flaw seems to be re-emerging.
“The structure I don’t mind everything about it, but we’re just making that (one) crucial mistake,” Tocchet said when asked about the state of the kill after practice on Sunday. “We’re on the wrong side on that goal. We don’t protect the backside. I don’t know what the analytics say, but we’re one of the worst teams when it comes to clears. When we get a puck on our stick, we’re not getting it out. That’s 30 seconds or 25 seconds. Our PK forecheck has actually been pretty good this year. If we can somehow get better at the clears and especially near the end of power plays, it seems like teams are scoring in the last 30 seconds, I think. I have to take a look. Those are the things we definitely have to shore up.”
The Canucks have 25 games under their belts now and you’d think would have a read on who their most effective penalty killers are. Clearly the absences of Carson Soucy and Pius Suter – both hurt in that Montreal game – is being felt and you can draw a through line to those two coming out of the line-up and the Canucks penalty killing taking a turn for the worse.
Over the recent 11 game struggles, Ian Cole leads the Canucks averaging 2:03 of short-handed ice time followed by Filip Hronek (1:47) and Nils Aman (1:42). In that same span, Cole, Tyler Myers and Jt Miller have been on the ice for six of the 10 power play goals surrendered and Elias Pettersson has been on for four.
The arrival of Zadorov gives Rick Tocchet and Adam Foote options and it feels like it’s time for the Canucks to re-examine their penalty killing personnel before the short-handed slide continues any further. Aside from the goal against on Saturday, the coach liked what he saw from Zadorov in that facet of the game.
“I will say he’s really good at clearing pucks, he had that one puck and he just drilled it down the ice and that was nice to see,” Tocchet said. “When you have a guy that can put some meat on the puck and it gets out. There are a couple of tweaks here and there. On that goal, maybe let Demmer have that shot and he protects the back door. Little things like that. Those are savvy little things that we like here as defencemen. Let Demmer play half the net and you take the backside and maybe that goal doesn’t go in instead of worrying about the shot. He’s a savvy guy and he picks up on things quick so far.”
The Canucks penalty kill will be put to the test on Tuesday when the NHL’s best power play comes to town. The New Jersey Devils are operating at 36.0% on the season – and an outrageous 40.5% on the road – and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will be here next week, are second in the league at 31.8%. So the Canucks will be put to the test on this homestand.
This much is clear, the penalty kill needs to improve. And in a hurry.

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