Previewing the Abbotsford Canucks’ three game road trip and a Tristen Nielsen penalty killing update

Photo credit:Cody Severtson
Cody Severtson
3 months ago
This week, CanucksArmy’s Dave Hall wrote a fantastic article detailing why Abbotsford’s Tristen Nielsen deserves call-up considerations.
The article came just a few days after this Farmies post-game blurb following the club’s 4-3 loss to the Reign.
The night’s second star belongs to Tristen Nielsen, who, like Podkolzin, was a force in Abbotsford’s comeback efforts. Without his odd-man rushes, they don’t come back in the second period nor keep the Reign on their heels in the third. Though the Canucks didn’t get much of an opportunity to work on the penalty kill, I do wonder where Nielsen and Podkolzin figure into NHL call-up considerations down the road. Neither guy has featured in even a minor PK role for Jeremy Colliton, but they feature heavily in games they are trailing or trying to hold leads. PK time isn’t the end-all-be-all of a prospect’s NHL potential, but it gives an idea of the call-up pecking order. Linus Karlsson wasn’t a mainstay PK feature, then started getting third-shift reps late last season and this season, and has been the number one guy called up for the forward reserves. Max Sasson has since joined Abbotsford’s third-shift PK group, as has Aatu Räty. Bains is the lone exception in that he plays a significant second-shift PK role but is still biding his time for a call-up. All this is to say, for NHL call-up watch, keep an eye out for Nielsen or Podkolzin getting minor reps on the PK. Tonight’s efforts from both assuredly jumped them higher on the ‘next-man-up’ pecking order.
Do you know what happened in the Canucks’ final game of this recent six-game homestand? Tristen Nielsen saw minor reps on the PK.
The charts I usually provide in these previews come from me, manually entering shot data from the AHL center page to break down better where points and offence are coming from, 5-on-5, shorthanded, power play, man advantage with the goalie pulled, 4-on-4, etc. etc.
I love breaking down data, and while I don’t have the free time to track CORSI like I used to, there’s still a ton of value in knowing what’s happening with prospects on the ice at 5-on-5.
Lo-and-behold, while inputting Sunday’s action into my log, I saw that Nielsen recorded a shorthanded shot on goal, which blew my mind.
With Arshdeep Bains in the penalty box, Jeremy Colliton went with this PK structure.
  1. Chase Wouters and John Stevens took the opening d-zone faceoff, staying inside the d-zone until a loss of possession at the blue line forced the Gulls to reset from neutral territory.
  2. Stevens changed for Aatu Räty, but a quick reset from the Gulls forced Wouters into taking an extra-long shift. In total, Wouters played 71 seconds shorthanded until a deflection over the glass allowed him to change.
  3. With 49 seconds remaining in Bains’ penalty, Tristen Nielsen took the d-zone faceoff alongside Max Sasson.
Nielsen lost the 50/50 draw but recovered the puck along the wall, sparking a shorthanded 2v2 rush with Sasson for the shot on net. He and Sasson then stayed out with 16 seconds left on the PK for the offensive zone faceoff, completing the penalty kill.
With the Gulls pressing from behind, Nielsen did not see PK time. Jeremy Colliton leaned on Wouters and Stevens tremendously over the final three PKs over the last two periods. Still, the minute of shorthanded time for Nielsen was proof that the club is looking to test his defensive capabilities in challenging situations.
Okay, maybe not soon. But the foundations are being laid for a potential cup of coffee for Nielsen.
That Nielsen saw PK reps over Vasily Podkolzin was very interesting to me, given the latter’s experience killing penalties in the KHL and VHL before coming stateside.
I digress.
An intriguing development in Nielsen’s trajectory as we look ahead to the team’s three-game road trip to California!
Before we preview the games, let’s see how we did in last week’s predictions.
Week 15 predictions review
I have a feeling the players will do everything in their power to distance themselves from this recent stretch of alternating shutout losses. Because their power play remains so dreadful, I’m picking Abbotsford to win three of their next four, exclusively on the backs of their even-strength scoring.
The good news? The Canucks distanced themselves from an unfortunate run of alternating shutout losses, scoring 13 goals over their last four games.
The bad news? The Canucks split results against the Ontario Reign and San Diego Gulls, giving them a 4-5-0-1 record in their last 10.
Pretty lame, Milhosue.
Pretty lame, indeed.
Another poor week of predictions from me. Though they did get away from the shutout streak, winning two of four isn’t quite the “three of four” as predicted.
Team Stats
League Stats
Last week, the Canucks outshot their opposition 132 to 99 across all situations. At 5-on-5, the Canucks outshot their opposition 106 to 72. Factoring score effects, the club outshot their opposition 41 to 40 at 5-on-5 with the game tied. The high volume of shots on goal bumped the Farm up to third in the AHL by shots for per game (31.65/GP) and dropped their previously sky-high shooting percentage from third-highest in the AHL to a lowly 12th-highest (10.9%).
Simultaneously, the club decreased their rate of shots conceded per game from an average of 31.1 to 29.6 shots per game, good for the 19th-best rate of shots allowed in the league. Unfortunately, their goaltending platoon has continued to struggle through the New Year. Arturs Silovs and Nikita Tolopilo’s  .900 and .902 save percentages each rank below the league average of .903. As such, their platoon save percentage ranks 12th-worst in the AHL.
Division Standings
Scoring Leaders
With four points in his four games played, Mark Friedman led all Abbotsford Canucks in scoring this past week. Bains picked up three points over four games, giving him a comical 10-point lead on the second-leading scorers Sheldon Dries (out with injury) and Linus Karlsson (flip-flopping between Vancouver and Abbotsford).
With a goal and primary assist against the Reign and the Gulls, Max Sasson pulled even with Bains in the 5v5 primary points leaderboard. Both forwards have 16 total on the season, while Nielsen and Karlsson sit tied in second place with 13 primary points at 5-on-5 apiece.
When he joined Abbotsford, Mark Friedman immediately showed why he’s a fringe NHL-calibre defenceman. His three 5v5 points will see him finish his Abbotsford tenure as the season leader in 5v5 points per game as Sasson, Nielsen, and Bains jockey for position over the remainder of the season.
Alex Kannok Leipert, who played Sunday’s game as the fourth-line center, picked up his first point of the season, assisting on ECHL call-up Josh Passolt’s first goal of the season. Akito Hirose, who remains out long-term with a lower-body injury, is the only active Abbotsford Canuck on the roster without a point in any situation.
Injury Report
Linus Karlsson has been flipped between the NHL and AHL clubs six hundred times since Vancouver returned from their lengthy Eastern road trip and will probably flip-flop another 20 times before puck drop on Tuesday night.
Games 38 @ San Diego Gulls
It took 10 games and 28 power play opportunities, but the Abbotsford Canucks broke their power play drought with a tally on the man advantage in their second game against the Ontario Reign last Wednesday evening.
They’ve since gone 0/8 on the man advantage, dropping their already woeful power play to comically bad territory, operating at a 12.4% conversion rate, nearly 3% worse than the second-worst power play team in the league, Utica.
Hopefully, there won’t be too many special teams playing on this road trip, especially with Christian Wolanin’s injury status, Mark Friedman returning from his conditioning loan, and Linus Karlsson back in Vancouver on a call-up. The team’s power play struggled mightily with one or two of those three in the PP rotation; I dread to think how it will fare without all three on this road trip.
Alas, the Gulls have the 11th-worst home penalty killing rate of the AHL, at 79.7%, which might give the Canucks’ laughable 13.3% away power play conversion rate some modicum of hope.
The Canucks beat the Gulls in their lone trip to San Diego this year by a score of 5-2. Were it not for Olen Zellwegger going gangbusters against Abbotsford on Saturday night, with a two-goal solo-assist performance, the Canucks could be up 3-zip on the season series. Now, they begin a brief California road trip against a Gulls team looking to rebound immediately from their demoralizing 5-2 loss.
Game 39 & 40 @ Bakersfield Condors
After their one-gamer against the Gulls, the Canucks journey North to Bakersfield, where they take on the surging Condors in a Friday/Saturday back-to-back.
With the majority of their leading scorers back in the lineup following cups of coffee with the Edmonton Oilers, the Condors have been on a heater, thanks in part to Jack Campbell remembering that he’s a credible goaltender capable of not being a below-replacement level AHL netminder.
Over his last four starts, the man they call ‘Soup’ has turned his season around, posting a goals-against average of 2.01 and a .939 save percentage.
Great news for Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers!
Bad news for Arshdeep Bains and the Abbotsford Canucks, who welcomed Campbell back to the AHL with back-to-back 4-spots.
The Condors are still a stingy team, generating and conceding very little in the way of goals and shots. Through 32 games, the Condors have generated the 13th-most goals per game (3.19) on the 6th-fewest shots per game (27.8). They sit 7th in the league by shooting rate (11.2%). Simultaneously, they’re conceding the 9th-fewest goals against per game (2.78) despite allowing the 8th-most shots per game (31.8). With Calvin Pickard on recall with the Oilers, this weekend’s series will lean heavily on Campbell’s ability to keep the Condors alive against the Canucks (occasionally) potent, volume-heavy offence.
The Canucks have scored the fifth-most goals (total) and fifth-most goals per game. As mentioned earlier, their goalie platoon has struggled mightily in the New Year, resulting in their goals-against rate plummeting to 17th in the AHL (3.14 GA/GP).
Week 16 predictions 
The Condors have scored 30 goals in their last seven games in January and are 6-1-0-0 in that run. Frankly, the vibes in this matchup are not great, especially with Karlsson, Friedman, and Wolanin MIA. This could be another ugly stretch of hockey for the Farm team.
I’m going to stay slightly positive and predict that the Canucks will defeat the Gulls and Condors in back-to-back wins before closing the road trip on a downer with a regulation loss to the Condors.

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