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Why it’s time for the Canucks to shake up their second power play unit

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks have one of the league’s most intimidating power play units. Consisting of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes, with Andrei Kuzmenko and Filip Hronek rotating as the fifth skater. This group has heavily contributed to the twelfth-best, 23.1% power play conversion rate the Canucks have this season.
Halfway through the season, the Canucks have scored 31 goals on the power play, 28 of which have come from their top unit. At this rate, they’re on pace for 56 goals, which would shatter last year’s total of 36.
With only three power play goals for the second unit on the season, that’s, quite frankly, not good enough. 
The last time the Canucks second unit scored a goal was November 11th. To put that into perspective, here’s a look at the NHL standings on that day and a few events that happened in the sports world since then.
The Edmonton Oilers were the second-worst team in the league with a 3-9-1 record, coming off a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks the last time the Canucks second unit scored a power play goal. 
Cleveland Browns current quarterback, Joe Flacco, was un-signed by the team and sitting on his couch the last time the Canucks second unit scored a power play goal. 
Shohei Ohtani signed his record-breaking $700M contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers a month after the Canucks second unit last scored a power play goal.
The infamous goal was scored by Pius Suter against the Toronto Maple Leafs, assisted by Anthony Beauvillier. Yes, Beauvillier was still on the team at that point. In the 10-1 beat-down of the San Jose Sharks, the second unit converted, but this was the ninth goal in a blowout where the Canucks didn’t need their top group. 
Understanding the second unit sees much less ice time than the first; two months without a goal is too long. Comparing this year to last season’s Canucks squad, the second unit had six different goal scorers; Sheldon Dries (4), Anthony Beauvillier (3), Conor Garland (2), Dakota Joshua (1), Ilya Mikheyev (1), Vitali Kravtsov (1). Collectively scoring 12 goals. One would imagine upgrading Dries to Suter and adding the offensive prowess of Hronek would amount to more than three goals halfway through the season. 
Something needs to change.

Current second power play unit

Pius Suter, Conor Garland, Ilya Mikheyev, Sam Lafferty and Filip Hronek round out the Canucks current second power play unit. Hronek’s power play stats are skewed as he alternates in on the top unit, but clearly leads this group with nine points and 79:25 time on ice.
Suter has been the most dangerous of the forwards. Scoring one goal with 11 individual scoring chances (iSCF), eight of which were individual high-danger scoring chances (iHDCF). 
Garland is not far behind Suter in power play productivity, registering one assist with seven iSCF, three of which were iHDCF, and only trailing Suter in expected goals for (ixG) on the power play.
These three are staples on your second unit. It’s these next two that seem to be the issue. 
Mikheyev leads the group in total points this season, but with all 22 of his points coming at even-strength, he’s been a ghost with the man advantage. One would expect a player playing the half-wall on the power play to be more influential offensively, but with only four shots and two iHDCF in 38:43 minutes of ice time, that is not the case. 
Linus Karlsson, who has only played four games up with the big club this season, has just as many iHDCF (2) in only 4:28 minutes of power play time. Regarded as a predominant AHL forward has the equivalent number of iHDCF on the power play in 34:15 less ice time than a top-six forward on your NHL roster. 
Lafferty has one more iHDCF chance than Mikheyev, but is that a by-product of better play or positioning on the ice? Players earn an iHDCF from a shot attempt in the slot or on the rush. Most of Lafferty’s power play time is spent in the slot area (the bumper spot that Bo Horvat made so famous), which explains why he may have more or equal iHDCF opportunity than the others. 
Why does Rick Tocchet continue to give these players opportunities if they’re noticeably generating nothing offensively? When two third’s of the Canucks most consistent line all season are sitting on the bench?

The Replacements

 
Maybe the unsung hero this season won’t go to one player but instead an entire line. The still name-less third line of the Canucks has been the biggest revelation on what is the best start to a season for the franchise since 2010-2011. 
In only 12:27 power play minutes of ice time, Blueger has,
A higher ixG than both Lafferty and Mikheyev
A higher iHDCF than Mikheyev, tied with Lafferty
Trails in iSCF to both Lafferty and Mikheyev only by one
All of this in 26:19 minutes less power play time than Mikheyev and 5:06 less than Lafferty. 
With Joshua’s success, you’d imagine he would have earned more than 4:01 of ice time on the power play, but that’s all the power forward has received this season. That is 27 seconds less than four games played, Linus Karlsson. 
Vancouver has had a glaring need for a net-front presence, so why not park Joshua’s 6-foot-3, 206-pound frame right in front of the opposing team’s goalie to set a screen? 
With data provided by NHL Edge, you can see of Joshua’s 11 goals, eight of them have been right in front of the net. Whether they’re tipped or off a rebound, this looks to be an untapped weapon the Canucks have yet to utilize. 
The overall 5-on-5 play from Joshua and Blueger shows they deserve a chance on the man advantage. Replacing Mikheyev and Lafferty with these two and re-uniting one of the league’s best third lines, alongside Suter and Hronek, could be the answer to snapping their current 27-game goal-less drought.

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