Paterson’s Point: Resurgent penalty kill the unsung hero of Canucks’ first round win over Predators

Photo credit:© Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
1 month ago
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A day later, much of the focus remains on the late-game goal-scoring heroics of Pius Suter and the puck-stopping wizardry of Arturs Silovs. But make no mistake, the penalty kill may have been the single most-important facet that allowed the Vancouver Canucks to beat Nashillve 1-0 on Friday night and to dispatch the Predators in six games in their tightly-contested series with virtually no margin for error.
The Canucks killed all three Nashville power plays in Friday’s elimination game including a double minor to Brock Boeser for high-sticking midway through a scoreless game. And then, almost as a fitting stamp on the series, the Canucks were forced to kill off the final 34 seconds of the game – and the series – after Elias Lindholm was called for cross checking in the final minute with the Canucks nursing a 1-0 lead.
In the series, the Canucks killed off 20 of the Predators’ 22 power plays. No team in the first round was assessed more minor penalties than the Canucks, who, somehow in a series with razor-thin margins, saw the power plays favour Nashville 22-13, including seven to two over the final six periods. This was a Nashville power play that was second best in the NHL from the All Star break to the end of the regular season converting on 27.2% of it’s chances. So the Preds hit the playoffs with a power play that was on a roll.
No problem. Although the Canucks allowed a Ryan O’Reilly goal with the man-advantage on the Preds first power play of the series, the Canucks successfully killed off 20 of the final 21 times they found themselves short-handed. After the early one, only Roman Josi’s controversial crease crasher in Game 6 managed to squeeze across the goal line.
Simply put, Ian Cole was a beast. The 35-year-old with championship pedigree led all Canucks in penalty killing ice time on Friday night (2:35) and throughout the series logged five and a half minutes more short-handed than any of his teammates and nearly six minutes more than any other Canucks defenceman. In fact, not only did Cole lead the Canucks in first round ice time – no player in the league has logged more ice time in these playoffs while down a man than the veteran blueliner. His 21:04 while short-handed leads Boston’s Brandon Carlo by 39 seconds (with the Bruins still to play their Game 7 against Toronto on Saturday night).
Those are hard-minutes in high leverage situations. And Cole led the way on the Canucks blueline followed by Nikita Zadorov (15:10), Tyler Myers (12:37) and Carson Soucy (12:12). Up front, the Canucks were led by Teddy Blueger (15:43) and Elias Lindholm (15:40) – who also lead all NHL forwards in the first round – with a significant gap in short-handed ice ahead of Dakota Joshua, Elias Pettersson and Phil Di Giuseppe. No Canuck was on the ice for more than one power play goal against in the series.
To put Cole’s usage in further perspective, he killed 10 minutes more than the leading Predators penalty killer Alexandre Carrier (11:19) and more than twice as much as any other Nashville skater in the series.
In the series as a whole, the Canucks limited the Preds to 19 shots on goal in their 22 power play opportunities. That included a successful kill of a 25-second two-man advantage midway through the third period of Game 3. 
Of course, a team needs its goalie to be its best penalty killer and the Canucks got timely short-handed stops from all three of the netminders they used in the series. Thatcher Demko stopped four of the five Predators power play shots he faced in Game 1. Arturs Silovs stopped five of the six shots sent his way over the final three games of the series. And don’t lose sight of the fact Casey DeSmith denied all eight Preds power play shots in his two games in the series.
Simply put, the penalty kill was a series saver. And it represents a significant shift for a team that was dead last in the league in the category 12 months ago. 
Now keeping the Preds power play at bay is one thing – and was an important part of the series outcome. But now the Canucks run headlong into an Edmonton power play that scored nine times in 20 opportunities (45%) over five games against Los Angeles. 
As good as the Canucks penalty killers were against Nashville, they’ll likely have to find a way to raise their level against Edmonton. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and one of the great challenges in the game awaits. But the Canucks penalty killers head into the next round on a high and looking as sharp as they have all season.

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