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What the Canucks did right against Nashville and what they need to do better against Edmonton

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Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks had a great first-round series win against the Nashville Predators, but let’s face it, it wasn’t perfect. It was just nice for the city of Vancouver to celebrate outside Rogers Arena for the first time since Kevin Bieksa’s stanchion goal back in the third round of the 2011 Stanley Cup run. 
The Canucks handled business in six games, but you just simply aren’t going to beat the Edmonton Oilers if you repeat the same level of play they did against Nashville. Vancouver struggled with shot volume, having 21 or fewer shots on goal in five of six games, including a game in which they won with 12 shots. Vancouver also disappointed in goal-scoring, with only 13 total goals for an average of 2.2 per game – a massive dip from the 3.4 regular season average. 
And while I may be hesitant to give them too much credit, they had a lot of positives in their game that will hopefully translate to their game in round two. But first, let’s talk about what the Canucks did right in round one.

What they did right against Nashville

It was a solid series for the Canucks. They never really had a full 60 minutes where they dominated play for the entire game, and it reflected on the scoresheet. Three of their wins came from last-minute third-period heroics, which is debatably more entertaining. However, there were games in which both teams looked dominant but still lost. 
Vancouver lost Game 2, in which they more than doubled Nashville in shot attempts (84-36) and nearly doubled in scoring chances (38-20). However, the same thing can be said reversely. Nashville lost Game 3, yet doubled Vancouver in shot attempts (71-33) and expected goals for (2.28-1.14) and nearly doubled them in scoring chances (33-18). 
So, while it was a back-and-forth series, the penalty discrepancies really inflated the Predators’ numbers. Nashville had 22 powerplay opportunities to Vancouver’s 13. If we look into each team’s 5-on-5 numbers for the series, it paints a different picture. 
As you can see, the analytics for the entire series are a spitting image of one another. But the Canucks controlled and dominated play at 5-on-5 during the series. Although they had 17 fewer shots on goal than the Predators, they had 26 more shot attempts. More time in the offensive zone leads to more shot attempts and scoring chances, which the Canucks both led in. So even though they trailed in total shots on goal at even strength, they still passed the eye test of generating more in the offensive zone. 
Game 3 was the only game where the Predators out-chanced the Canucks at 5-on-5. Finishing with 31 more scoring chances than your opponent at even strength in just six games should land you a convincing series win – if you can stay out of the box. 
But that leads me to my next point. 
This Canucks penalty kill stole the show in the opening round. They finished the series killing 20 of 22 of their penalties, converting at a 90.9% clip – a massive improvement from their 17th-ranked penalty kill unit (79.1%) in the regular season. And that’s an impressive feat, considering the Predators had the league’s second-best powerplay (27.2%) since the All-Star break. 
Ian Cole was a monster on the penalty kill. He played 20:09 penalty kill minutes in the series, nearly five more minutes than the next skater. The team faced 30 shot attempts with Cole on the ice, but only 12 found the goaltender, and only one beat them. 
Cole had a great series. Towards the end of the year, he made some mistakes and rotated in and out of the lineup with Noah Juulsen. But in that opening round, it’s clear he’s earned his spot in the lineup moving forward. 
His defensive partner, Nikita Zadorov, deserves his own blurb after his performance in the first round.
Whether it was an end-to-end goal in a tie game late in the third period:
Or a step up to energize the team with a big hit:
Big Z had it all this series, showing his value in the playoffs.
Instead of playing the Cole-Zadorov duo in their regular third-pairing role, Rick Tocchet used his defensive pairings equally. Here is a list of the Canucks defensive average ice time against the Predators.
What’s nice about this is that Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek are playing fewer minutes. Now, it’s rarely a good thing to hear that Hughes is playing fewer minutes, but that keeps him fresh and helps him through whatever minor injury he was playing through. 
Hronek, however, was a ghost during the opening round, and there may be a different reason he’s playing less. But hey, it’s nice to have your bottom pairing guys step up offensively (Zadorov) and defensively (Cole) and play extra minutes when your top guys are hurting and struggling. 
Overall, Vancouver played well in the opening round. Their significant contributions from the back end of the back end, helping the penalty kill to a 90.9% success rate and 5-on-5 dominance, pushed them past the Nashville Predators. But now the Canucks are up against a different beast, the Edmonton Oilers, and there are some adjustments to make.

What the Canucks need to do better against the Oilers

If a hockey observer just looked into the regular season stats and saw that Vancouver swept Edmonton 4-0 in the season series, they’d think the Canucks would be heavy favourites.
Wrong.
Edmonton currently sits at -250 favourites and will be a much more difficult opponent than Nashville. They mopped the floor with the Los Angeles Kings in the first round for the third straight season, winning in five games. The Oilers outscored the Kings 22-13 and led in every statistical category. 
With just one game of sample size to see really where to exploit this Oilers team in the playoffs, we must look to the Kings’ Game 2, 5-4 win. 
In Game 2, the Kings got out to an early lead, scoring in the first three minutes. They would end the first period with three goals; Adrian Kempe scored two goals in that period and had five points in the series, so maybe just trading for Kempe would help the Canucks win? Just kidding.
Well, lucky for Vancouver fans, the Canucks were elite in the first period of the regular season. They either won or tied the first period in 65 of their 82 games. On the other hand, Edmonton lost the first period in 25 games and would only go on to win nine of those games.
In the series against the Predators, Vancouver exited the first period with a lead just once — a substantial decline from their regular-season strength. They went on to win that game 2-1, but you can’t expect to win games like that regularly if you’re getting outshot 30-12. 
By getting off to an early lead, it will force the Oilers to play more desperate and lean into taking more risks for the Canucks to counter-attack. They were able to walk away with a first-period lead in all four meetings this season, which matches their 4-0 series record. 
The Kings’ more disciplined play was another factor in their Game 2 victory. They allowed the second-fewest amount of powerplay opportunities (3) and held them to just one powerplay goal. 
Now, a 66.7% penalty kill percentage isn’t great, but it is when you’re playing the Oilers. Edmonton finished the series converting on nine of their 20 powerplay opportunities for a 45% powerplay percentage.
Although this Vancouver penalty kill is something to be encouraged about after round one, they just can not afford to give this Oilers powerplay the same volume of opportunities. Edmonton’s powerplay, which set records last year, stayed fully intact and was hot on the Predators’ tail with the sixth-best powerplay percentage (25.5%) since the All-Star break.
One last thing that the team needs to improve on is scoring; the 2.2 goals for per game thus far isn’t going to cut it against this high-flying offence.
Yeah, yeah, I know that’s not a surprise, but hear me out.
The Dakota Joshua-Elias Lindholm-Conor Garland line came up clutch in the last series. They had a huge game one, scoring three of the team’s four goals and the game-winner in overtime to complete the Game 4 comeback. They were stacked up against the Predators’ top line and shut them down 5-on-5, matching them at three goals a piece. While the Predators’ top line got outshot and out-chanced, that’s expected in their defensive role. In turn, it limits their offensive upside, diminishing the team’s depth scoring, which only magnifies Elias Pettersson’s struggles. 
If they’re going to win this series, they can’t just rely on J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser’s line; albeit it’s been fantastic, Pettersson has to reach another level. Get regular-season Nils Höglander going with some aggressive board battles. I do have some hope; he has seven points in four games against the Oilers this season. Hopefully, a familiar foe can be what sparks some offence for the slumping centreman.
It was an incredible sight to see the Canucks move onto the second round. This season is already considered a success, given the expectations the team had on them before the start of the year. 
However, there’s so much more to fight for, and now, the focus is all on the Edmonton Oilers.
There’s a lot to be encouraged about from the Nashville series, like the 5-on-5 dominance, the penalty-killing prowess and unlikely heroes stepping up. If they can continue this, along with getting an early lead, staying disciplined and getting Pettersson going, there’s a shot Vancouver can advance to the Western Conference final.
What do you think Canucks fans? How do you like the teams’ chances to get by the Oilers?

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