A closer examination of the Canucks’ 1/8 power play against the Oilers

Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
1 year ago
In their season opening 5-3 loss against the Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks’ special teams were the talk of the game in a bad way.
Their penalty kill wasn’t brilliant, going 2/4, but they were up against a historically good power play unit, so there’s some leeway there.
Rather, the biggest sore spot is the 1/8 power play that the Canucks sported. Regardless of the missed high-sticking call on Quinn Hughes that led to the Oilers’ first goal, a team can’t go 12.5% on the power play and expect to win games. It’s even more frustrating given the power play struggles that this team has gone through, which looked to be a thing of the past during the second half of the 2021-22 season. Vancouver sported the league’s second-best power play after Boudreau took over.
So what went wrong? I decided to go back to watch all the power plays so you didn’t have to, and do some good old-fashioned hand-tracked stats.

Housekeeping Items

For the sake of this article, I tracked passes, shots, high danger passes, high danger shots, missed passes/turnovers, and goals in the offensive zone. I’m specifically looking at the offensive zone because, in an optimal setup, that is where all of your power play action is taking place. Shots are the equivalent of shot attempts here, as I will be counting everything regardless of if they reach the net. This is to get a gauge of where the attempts come from, if they aren’t within my definition of high-danger.
Speaking of high danger, for this article my criteria for high-danger shots are attempts that fall within the yellow area:
This area is where the puck should be worked into for the best scoring chances, becoming high danger due to the likelihood of a shot from this spot becoming a goal. As such, a high-danger pass is one where the puck is worked into this area, or a pass that leads to a high-danger shot within this area.
As for missed passes/turnovers, I combined them into one category as a negative indicator, where the puck is contested or secured by the defending team.
Make sense? Alright, here’s how each power play shaped up.

Individual Power Plays

The first PP of the night:
The second:
The third:
Fourth PP of the night:
Number six on the night:
And finally, the Canucks’ eighth and final man advantage from Wednesday night:

Notes and Observations

  • The eye-test and stats match up with the first unit — they pass a lot. A total of 87 passes were made during their 8:14 of powerplay time, with only 7 of them being considered high-danger. An 8% ratio is not the best, especially when there’s so much time being spent on the man advantage.
  • What’s more frustrating is how static the players are on the first unit. They do sling the puck around very well, but there’s not a lot of movement from their assigned spots. The old adage of “the puck never gets tired” does remain true, but the players themselves were also not moving the penalty kill around enough to justify passing that much. There was one power play in the preseason game against the Kraken where Vancouver looked so much more dynamic, and it’s tough to see them reverting to old habits against the Oilers as soon as the regular season kicks in.
  • A testament to how much the first unit passes can be seen when Oliver Ekman-Larsson joined them in the place of a bleeding Quinn Hughes. Just on that power play alone, the defenceman recorded 6 passes out of his 7 total.
  • This also resulted in a lot less high-danger shots – because the puck was never able to be worked into a spot where a clean opportunity could be taken. Many of the passes were back and forth from the point, evidenced from Quinn Hughes’ 26 total passes. Of course, as the power play quarterback, he’s expected to pass a lot, but when he’s trading passes with Pettersson on the right wing and not getting a shot off, it’s not exactly the most productive use of power play time.
  • I’d also like to point out that Bo Horvat’s 1 high-danger shot is either testimony to how good the Oiler’s penalty kill unit is or the Canucks simply unable to unlock their bumper piece. Last season, he recorded 13 power play goals, a large portion of them being from in that low slot area. Only one pass found its way to him against Edmonton, and considering how important of a role Horvat plays in making this special team a threat, it’s something Vancouver needs to try and activate.
  • Another point of concern is Quinn Hughes leading the Canucks in shots on the power play. For any expected goals model, a point shot is one of the least likely to result in a goal. Shooting from the point is a good tool to use – if you have traffic in front. The Canucks were able to get some deflections that turned into high-danger opportunities, but not enough to justify the high usage rate of Hughes’ point shot.
  • Andrei Kuzmenko was probably the most efficient player on the power play for Vancouver. Out of his 9 passes, 2 were considered high-danger, while all four of his shots were high-danger. It’s not exactly surprising, given how his playmaking was arguably second only to Vasily Podkolzin last night, but definitely interesting to see the latest addition to the first unit was one of the more effective ones. I also couldn’t help but notice that he appeared to be the most dynamic off the puck – moving around open ice to help space out for his teammates.
  • JT Miller on the other hand was just not having a good night on the man advantage. He led all Canucks with 6 missed passes/turnovers, the most memorable being clearing the zone for the Oilers in a blind pass to the point that OEL missed. Miller does have that assist to Kuzmenko, but that was pretty much it in terms of his impact. He’ll need to be much better, and make himself into a shooting threat (2 shots), for the Canucks to improve on the power play.
  • An aspect I noticed as I was watching was that a lot of high-danger chances that Vancouver got on the man advantage were because of a good zone entry. Playing off the rush and in transition yielded better results than setting up in the offensive zone. It seems odd to say, but perhaps this can be chalked up to individual talent and an element of chaos. The large majority of these power plays were predictable, trying to set up a Pettersson blast or sending it cross-ice to open up the rink. On the other hand, as they transition into the offensive zone, they’re able to move the defenders around a lot more, either getting them to collapse or commit which opens up scoring opportunities.
  • Pettersson needs to shoot more. 3 shots, with only one of them considered high-danger, is simply not good enough for someone with the weapon that he has. Yes, teams are scouting and anticipating his one-timer, but if he doesn’t take them, then it removes a threat from the power play unit. The loss of offensive gravity around Pettersson would be a tremendous detriment to the rest of his teammates, giving the penalty kill the ability to hedge off of him just that little bit more. It feels as if Pettersson is waiting for the perfect pass to take a chance at times. With the game that he was having at that point, it surely wouldn’t have been a bad idea to shoot more than he did on the man advantage.
  • If the first unit passed the puck too much, then the second unit didn’t pass enough. During their time on ice, PP2 didn’t accomplish much at all. PP1 looked to pass until they got the best possible opportunity, while PP2 appeared magnetized to the boards. Despite the drop in calibre of personnel, it still isn’t something you like to see. Otherwise, there isn’t much to remark about a unit that saw half the ice time of the other.
  • One of Tanner Pearson or Nils Höglander should be bumped off of the second unit for the likes of Vasily Podkolzin. Both wingers were ineffective with their time on the power play, registering only 3 high-danger shots between them. Höglander had it rough with 4 missed passes/turnovers, while Pearson decided to end the Canucks power play miseries by simply negating the man advantage before it could even get going. Experimentation with power play personnel is probably for the better, especially since it’s early on in the season.
The biggest takeaway from reviewing the power plays and tracking some stats is that the Canucks pass way too much for the amount of scoring chances they generate. It’s also not as if the passes they’re making are particularly risky as well, with a lot of winger-defenceman or winger-winger exchanges. If there is a time to be making higher-risk passes, it’s when an opposing team is down a man, affording less coverage area in the defensive zone.
There’s at least some news that the team is working on it ahead of today’s game, though it remains to be seen if it will yield results.
Vancouver needs to find a way to balance puck movement with player movement, and discover a way to take more high-danger shots on the power play. The lack of efficiency that they showed on the man advantage against Edmonton came back to haunt them in the end.

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