Why variety is key to the Vancouver Canucks’ newfound success on the power play
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks came into the 2023/24 season with a stated desire to get more out of their special teams. Just five games into the campaign, things are already looking up.
The penalty kill remains a work in progress. Thus far, it’s hovering around the middle of the league at 19th overall and a 75% success rate, which is an improvement over last season’s historically bad start, but still nothing to write home about.
The power play, on the other hand? That one is definitely postcard-worthy. At a red-hot 37.5%, the Canucks have the third-best power play in the league and the outright best in the West, having scored on six of 16 opportunities with the man advantage.
Last year, it took them nearly double the number of games to hit that total, meaning the Canucks have arguably done more PP damage already in five games of the 2023/24 season than they did in all of October 2022.
What has been the key to their success? Variety, for the most part.
All six power play goals thus far have been scored by different individuals.
Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, JT Miller, Brock Boeser, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Carson Soucy have each scored a goal with the man advantage. That’s the entirety of the first unit and one member of the second unit all chipping in.
Compare that to last season, in which the Canucks have just five unique power play scorers through the entire month of March, and the difference really stands out.
But it’s not just who is scoring the power play goals, but how they are scoring them.
Last year, and really for the last couple of years, the Canucks have had a “go-to” play on the power play, and it’s been the use of a shooter in the “bumper” position.
Usually Bo Horvat, sometimes JT Miller, everyone and their dog knew that the Canucks were going to endeavour to cycle the puck to that same spot on the ice time and time again, and that eventually made their power play a little too stagnant and a little too predictable.
All goals count the same on the scoreboard, but it’s hard not the see the repetitiveness at play there, and it should really come as no surprise that, prior to Horvat’s departure and the hiring of Rick Tocchet in late January, the Canucks’ power play had been on a steady decline of effectiveness. In the sport of hockey, predictable generally equals preventable.
But the Canucks are predictable no more! Let’s take a look at the power play goals thus far on the 2023/24 season.
The first, funnily enough, was a result of Boeser being set up in the mirror-image of Horvat’s old bumper position, though this was more of a lucky bounce that a tightly-executed snipe-job:
The goal was Boeser’s third on opening night.
Next up, just a few minutes later, was Pettersson, ripping home a wrist-shot from the right point, to which he had temporarily cycled back as the Canucks moved the puck around:
The Canucks weren’t done there, either. The third period saw Miller join the PP club, skating in from the left point, to which he had temporarily cycled back, and firing it home:
One night into the season, and the Canucks had already scored from more spots on the power play than they did during the whole opening month last year.
And there was more to come. In Game Two, it was Kuzmenko’s turn to get in on the fun by doing what he does best, which is hanging out near the crease and tipping pucks into the net:
After that, the Canucks went through the entirety of the Philadelphia and Tampa Bay matches without a power play goal, perhaps a result of only receiving four power play opportunities between the two games.
Regardless, they were back at it against Florida. First came Hughes, rifling one in from the quarterback’s position up at the middle of the blueline:
And then Soucy taking advantage of a broken play to cruise into the slot and send it home:
There you have it. Five games and six power play goals from six different scorers in six different spots. If the issue was stagnancy, complacency, and predictability, then the Canucks have clearly taken steps to improve their power play through the addition of some simple variety. And it’s not just the results that say so. Anyone watching the games will see far more movement of both pucks and bodies on the man advantage, and there’s a stark difference between the look of these early-season power plays and even what Tocchet was able to put together in the tail-end of last year.
It might be a side note here, but it also bears mentioning that despite an increase in power play scoring, the Canucks aren’t relying on it any more heavily than they did in previous years.
Thus far, six of 20 goals scored by the Canucks have come on the power play. Through all of October 2022, it was eight goals of 28 on the power play.
So, the Canucks’ are scoring more, more Canucks are scoring, and they’re doing so in a way that opposing teams shouldn’t be able to get a read on quite so easily, which means that the scoring is probably more sustainable.
It’s early, but all signs point to the power play having turned from an area requiring some serious revamping to a genuine strength of the team.
The bumper play had a good run. But it was long past due for something different. What the Canucks have found in its stead is something differentiated.
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