Canucks Penalty Kill Showing Vast Improvement Under Boudreau

Since Bruce Boudreau arrived, one of the biggest changes for the Vancouver Canucks has been the penalty kill. The team has only given up two goals on 12 attempts and is not costing them games anymore. This is a far cry from the 64.6% efficacy rate they had in the first 25 games. Here are some reasons why the penalty kill has thrived these last six games.

Canucks Are A More Disciplined Team

The easiest way to ensure a team does not give up a power-play goal is to stay out of the box. Since Boudreau’s arrival, that is exactly what the Canucks have done. With Travis Green in charge, the team averaged 3.28 penalties per game. The team has seen that number drop to two in the last six games.

One big reason the team has seen a decline in penalties is that they are moving their feet more and playing aggressive rather than passive. Under Green in the defensive end, the Canucks looked to be stationary most of the time and tried to use their sticks to steal pucks. This often led to stick infractions and the puck in the back of the net a few moments later. Now, the team is aggressive and not letting the offence do whatever they want with the puck. They are using the body more which has led to an increase in takeaways per game. The new system is working which is one of the reasons the Canucks’ penalty kill has improved over the past six games.

Player Deployment Change

Player deployment on the penalty kill was a constant debate amongst Canuck fans and media. Despite the team struggling, it was always the same four players every kill with little change. This was a problem because not only was the penalty kill strategy not working, it was taxing players like Tyler Myers and J.T. Miller who were playing over 2:30 of penalty kill ice time per game. Something needed to change, and Boudreau knew exactly what to do.

J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Boudreau’s strategy is to cycle through as many players on the penalty kill so that a fresh unit is always out there. This includes star players like Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson, as well as rookie Vasily Podkolzin. The results speak for themselves as the team has only given up one goal on 11 5-on-4 penalty kills. Below is a chart of penalty kill times between the two coaches this season.

PlayerTime Per Game Under GreenTime Per Game Under Boudreau
Tyler Myers2:551:47
J.T. Miller2:311:09
Tyler Motte2:311:16
Oliver Ekman-Larsson2:150:55
Tucker Poolman2:081:31
Bo Horvat0:361:09
Quinn Hughes0:080:49
Elias Pettersson0:020:26
Vasily Podkolzin0:000:30

One last advantage to playing players like Horvat, Pettersson and Hughes on the penalty kill is that it keeps them engaged throughout the game. There are not these long breaks where they have to sit on the bench and just watch. Boudreau trusts his star players on the penalty kill, and the results speak for themselves.

Related: Canucks Penalty Kill & Defence Rejuvenated Under Scott Walker

More Aggressive on the Penalty Kill

The last major change has been the team’s aggressiveness in the neutral zone as well as on the breakout. Under Green, the Canucks would sit back and let the opposition skate into the offensive zone without hesitation. Once the Canucks would get the puck away from the opposition, their first reaction would be to fire it up and hope it clears the zone. This strategy did not work well and as a result, the team gave up 29 power-play goals.

Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The strategy now involves the Canucks breaking up plays in the neutral zone, pressuring the opposition when they are trying to set up breakouts in their own zone, and carrying the puck out as much as possible. The results have been positive as the Canucks were one of the best penalty kill teams in the league since Dec 4, 2021. Having the star power also is a benefit as Pettersson was able to steal the puck and draw a penalty shot in the first game under Boudreau. The style has worked for the first six games, the question now is can the Canucks maintain this pressure throughout the rest of the season.

Penalty Kill Is Finally Living Up to Potential

The Canucks penalty kill has finally returned to the level fans expected. Everyone is doing their job and Thatcher Demko hasn’t been forced to make diving saves every time the team is a man down. Overall, the team is playing better and the penalty kill is no longer the reason the Canucks are losing games.