Why the Canucks must increase on-ice discipline and avoid the special teams game to beat Edmonton

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
It has been said that the upcoming and ongoing Round Two series between the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers will be won or lost on special teams. And there’s certainly a case to be made there.
The Canucks’ penalty kill did, after all, play a prominent and primary role in their Round One victory over the Nashville Predators.
The Canucks did succeeded on 90.9% of their attempts, the fourth-highest rate of any team in the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But the harsh reality at play here is that if this series turns into a battle of special teams, the Canucks are more-or-less screwed.
Why? Because one of the three teams to finish Round One with a higher PK rate than the Canucks were the Oilers, who finished at the very top with a penalty kill of…100%. They faced the Los Angeles power play 12 times in five games, and did not surrender a single goal.
At least on that front, the Oilers still only have a 9.1% lead on the Canucks. When it comes to the power play, the gulf is almost comical.
The Canucks scored on just 15.4% of their power play opportunities against Nashville, the fourth-lowest rate in Round One and the worst of any team that moved on to Round Two.
The Oilers, meanwhile, also led Round One on the PP with a staggering 45% success rate, having scored on nine of 20 opportunities.
And so, we’ll say it again. The Oilers had the best PP and the best PK in Round One, and it wasn’t a particularly close contest. If this series becomes a battle of the special teams, Edmonton is all but inevitably going to move on to Round Three.
But you know what’s a convenient way to get around all that?
Discipline. As in, not taking penalties so as not to give that vaunted Edmonton power play so many chances, ideally all the while drawing as many as possible.
Something easier said than done, to be sure, but crucial to victory.
The Canucks were not especially disciplined in Round One. Their 52 PIMs ranked tenth out of 16 teams, but that can be attributed to a total lack of (un-overturned) majors and misconducts. The Canucks’ 25 minor penalties – the ones that actually result in power plays – were tied for the most of any team in Round One.
Who were they tied with?
The LA Kings, of course.
The Canucks managed to get past Nashville all the same. But in taking those 25 penalties against the Oilers, the Kings essentially doomed themselves.
And as we return to the topic of discipline, we’ll go ahead and state that, of the two, the Canucks were clearly the more undisciplined in Round One, based on the simple notion that it’s a lot easier to avoid taking penalties against the Predators than it is a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on it.
So, something needs to shift.
If the Canucks take penalties as often against the Oilers as they did against the Predators, it will be a deciding factor in the series, and not in the way the Canucks would like.
There’s also the flipside of the drawing of penalties. Here again, the Canucks were caught lacking in Round One. They only drew 2.83 penalties-per-game against Nashville, which means that even if their power play was able to get going, it wouldn’t have had much chance to make a difference.
The nice thing here is that the two things should work in concert. By increasing their own on-ice discipline, the Canucks could hopefully affect an opposite response in the Oilers. The book on Edmonton has always been one of a slightly emotionally immature team, and one prone to occasional implosions. Cantankerous personalities like Draisaitl, Corey Perry, and especially Evander Kane only add to that reputation.
If the Canucks can avoid taking penalties and successfully draw or bait the Oilers into more than they did the Predators, that ideally translates into further frustration and more penalties taken by the Oilers. It’s a bit weird to think of discipline as a snowballing factor, but it really could be here, and it could make all the difference…and this time, in the way the Canucks want.
What does ‘more discipline’ look like? It can be a few different things. The Canucks should probably be taking fewer runs at Edmonton than they did at Nashville, as fun as taking runs might be. They should probably be more careful with their sticks at ice-level, as evidenced by the preponderance of questionable tripping minors in Round One. Against a team as fast as the Oilers, keeping the feet moving is paramount.
But, really, we’re media mouthpieces here, not NHL coaches. Rick Tocchet and Co. are the ones who get paid the big bucks to figure this stuff out. We’re just here to point out the blunt facts, and they are as follows:
The Oilers are an immensely offensively-gifted hockey team. Even at 5v5, it’s going to take everything the Canucks have to consistently outscore them enough to escape the series with a victory.
But while it will be a challenge, we do believe that the Canucks can outscore Edmonton at evens. We’re equally convinced, however, that the Canucks cannot outscore Edmonton in special teams situations.
Thus, it seems pretty simple from where we’re sitting. The Canucks either shore up their discipline – all the while hoping that Edmonton does the opposite – and give themselves a chance to win.
Or, they don’t, and the Edmonton power play continues its blistering pace right on unto Round Three.
The choice seems easy. Easier said than done, too.

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