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Paterson’s Point: Why Canucks’ below-average PK percentage doesn’t tell the whole story

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Photo credit:© Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
6 months ago
Timing is everything in life, so trust me, the irony of a column praising the Canucks’ penalty kill the day after it was torched for three goals is not lost on me. Not for a second.
But hear me out.
I’m not ready to give up on the team’s short-handed skaters and simply call this a continuation of the past two seasons, where that one aspect of the game repeatedly cost the Canucks points in the standings.
Through eight games, while much has gone right for the Canucks as a team, there is no way around the fact the penalty kill is a far too familiar 74.2%. In three of the eight games, it has been torched for multiple goals by opponents. And on Saturday, it got lit up for a season-high three goals by the Rangers, including a pair while two-men short.
Yet through all of that, I tend to side with head coach Rick Tocchet, who vehemently defended his penalty killers in the wake of the overtime loss to New York. Save these receipts, but I think the Canucks’ penalty kill is better than the numbers indicate.
When the schedule was released in June, one of the things that jumped out to me was the test the Canucks’ PK would be put to right out of the gate. Not only did they open the season with a pair of games against Edmonton and a power play that ran hotter than the sun last season (32.4%), five of their first eight games were against teams with top 10 power plays in the league last year – the Oilers twice, Tampa Bay, Florida and last night’s opponents, the Rangers.
Those teams combined to score 282 goals with the man-advantage last season. That’s what good power plays do. And just look at who has scored the power play goals against the Canucks this season: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nikita Kucherov and last night Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, and Mika Zibanejad. They have been shredded by the truly elite in the National Hockey League. McDavid, Draisaitl and Zibanejad were the top three power play goal scorers in the league last season, while the three Oilers and Kucherov were the top four power play point producers in the NHL. These guys are special teams assassins and the Canucks just happened to run into them in a cruelly short span to start the season.
So, getting through the first eight-game stretch on the schedule unscathed on the penalty kill was likely never going to happen. And really it was more about limiting the damage done. And we can debate the job the Canucks have done in that regard. The penalty kill percentage certainly doesn’t look good and will need to improve, but it’s also worth noting that the Canucks beat the Oilers twice and took a point off the Rangers – and those three games account for six of the eight goals the team has surrendered while short-handed this season.
Here’s where there have been signs of progress. In Game 2 in Edmonton, the Canucks killed off a two-man advantage in the third period while clinging to a one-goal lead. And in Nashville earlier in the week, the team successfully killed a pair of Predators third period power plays to help push a 3-2 lead across the finish line for a solid win at the end of a gruelling road trip.
Even on Friday night against St. Louis, with the Canucks up 3-0 and seemingly in full control midway through the hockey game, they not only killed their first penalty of the night that could have given the Blues some life and brought them back into the game, JT Miller scored the team’s first short-handed goal of the season to extend the lead in what turned out to be a comfortable 5-0 win. So already there have been key moments in games where the Canucks PK has been up to the test. 
And the encouraging part is that Ilya Mikheyev has logged just 50 seconds of short-handed ice time in his return from knee surgery and Teddy Blueger has yet to play a game this season. It stands to reason that both of those players, when fully healthy, will be fixtures in this particular area of the game and should bolster the Canucks penalty kill.
So without a doubt 74.2% looks and feels far too much like last season. Trust me, I get it. But there are some signs that indicate that things will be different moving forward. Certainly, the Canucks suffered some flesh wounds running the gauntlet of NHL power plays to start the season, but in the same breath it’s important to note the team has collected 11 of first 16 points up for grabs in the standings. So those wounds, while costly on occasion, have not proven to be death blows to this team or its early-season playoff hopes.
The penalty kill will remain a work in progress and will be something to monitor closely moving forward. But this is a case where the numbers aren’t as bad as they seem. Context certainly matters. There are reasons to explain why the PK is where it is. But there are also reasons to believe it won’t stay there for long.

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