Photo credit:© Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Who needs power plays? Canucks keep crushing the competition at 5-on-5
1 month ago
There was a time earlier this season when it was fair to question whether the Vancouver Canucks were too reliant on an over-heated power play. Those concerns have seemingly been put to rest after the team rolled through New Jersey and New York City and crushed solid competition at 5-on-5. In their historic three game sweep of the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders, the Canucks outscored their opponents 17-9 overall and impressively 14-7 at even strength.
In one of their most complete efforts of the season – playing back to back and for the third time in four nights – the Canucks skated circles around a rested Islanders team. Through the first 40 minutes of Tuesday’s game at UBS Arena, the Canucks controlled 65.6% of all shot attempts, outchanced the home team 24-10 including a 9-5 edge in high danger chances and outscored the Isles 4-0. The Canucks then cemented their 24th victory of the season when leading after two periods by stifling any notion of an Islanders comeback with a thoroughly professional third period that ticked off every one of Rick Tocchet’s non-negotiable boxes. Over the final 20 minutes, the Canucks held the Isles to five shots on goal – four of them at 5-on-5 – and, according to Natural Stat Trick, just one high-danger scoring chance.
This came 24 hours after they had outscored the Rangers 5-1 at 5-on-5 through the opening 40 minutes at Madison Square Garden before score effects kicked in and the Canucks went into their familiar third period defensive posture of keeping opponents to the outside and not giving up looks from the middle of the ice.
Those efforts followed Saturday’s game in New Jersey where the Canucks were dominant in the first period, controlled 63.6% of all shot attempts on the night and 69.7% of the expected goals at 5-on-5.
The Canucks are the highest scoring team in the NHL at 5-on-5 this season – and by a considerable margin. They have scored 110 goals in that game state which is 15 more than the Winnipeg Jets. Certainly they have benefited from bounces and had a number of players riding wildly inflated shooting percentages.
But in six games since Christmas, things have looked and, for long stretches, felt different. The Canucks have scored 21 of their 25 goals at 5-on-5 with just one power play goal in that time. But more than that, they are starting to control play on a far more regular basis.
Earlier in the season, the team torched opponents with the man-advantage. That is hardly the case these days. In the Canucks first 16 games this season, they scored 39 goals at 5-on-5 and 21 on the power play – essentially scoring two 5-on-5 goals for every one they netted on the power play. In the past 25 games, they team has scored 71 goals at 5-on-5 and just nine on the power play. That’s a ratio of close to eight to one.
Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are tied for fourth in the league in even-strength scoring with 34 points apiece, while JT Miller and Brock Boeser are not far behind with 32 points each. On defence, Hughes and Filip Hronek are the two highest scoring blueliners in the league at evens with Hughes nine points clear of Hronek and 10 in front of any other defender.
Since the start of January, Pettersson stands alone atop the league in even-strength scoring with nine of his 10 points produced at 5-on-5.
The significance of all this is that when the playoffs roll around – and with a record of 27-11-3 at the midway mark it certainly appears the Canucks are headed to the post-season – officials are often accused of putting their whistles away. And even if penalties are called, the bulk of the game is still played at even strength. The Canucks, who have outscored opponents 110-68 at 5-on-5 this season, are proving they are not leaning on their power play to win them hockey games. And beyond the gaudy goal totals, the recent results in the New York area have demonstrated the team’s ability to control – and at times dominate – play at even strength.
If they can keep that up, it will serve the Canucks well over the second half of the season and then, again, when the games matter most.
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