While the Vancouver Canucks seemingly turned around the power play against the Dallas Stars on Sunday, the penalty kill still leaves a lot to be desired. Currently ranked dead last in the NHL with an abysmal 63.9 percent success rate, it’s almost a given that they will give up at least one power play goal each and every game. With key penalty killers, Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter on the shelf with injuries, Jason Dickinson, J.T. Miller, Juho Lammikko, and Justin Bailey have tried and failed to hold down the fort in their absence.
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Along with Sutter and Motte, the Canucks had Jay Beagle taking up the majority of the shorthanded minutes last season. Despite his high cap hit, he was a great penalty killer and faceoff man, and general manager Jim Benning didn’t do a good enough job replacing him when he decided to include him in the trade for Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Those three losses, along with Antoine Roussel and Loui Eriksson, have left the Canucks grasping at straws on how to stop the bleeding on a penalty kill that is just hemorrhaging goals right now.
Beagle Won A lot of Faceoffs on the Penalty Kill
When you win a faceoff on the penalty kill, at least 15 seconds is taken off the clock. That’s just a fact. Too often this season have the Canucks lost the initial draw and seen the puck in the back of their net only a few seconds later. Say all you want about Beagle’s lack of production, but at the end of the day, he won faceoffs and kept the puck out of the hands of the opposition’s power play. Right now, that’s something the Canucks just aren’t doing.
With Sutter injured and Beagle not on the roster, the Canucks have used Miller, Dickinson, and Lammikko as faceoff men on the penalty kill. As you can see from the table below, it’s like night and day from what they had last year.
|Penalty Kill FO%
|Penalty Kill FO% (2020-21)
|Penalty Kill FO% (2021-22)
Lammikko has been the most successful, but even he is under 50 percent. If the Canucks hope to turn the penalty kill around at some point, someone has to start winning faceoffs more consistently. Beagle and Sutter did that last season, and even though the penalty kill wasn’t ranked near the top of the league, it was at least better than 63.9 percent.
Sutter Didn’t Just Win Faceoffs
In addition to his faceoff prowess, Sutter also ranked high in Corsi-for percentage (CF%) on the penalty kill last season. Amongst forwards that played more than 100 minutes shorthanded, he was only behind Mika Zibanejad, Jordan Staal, and Logan Couture with a solid 15.38 CF%. He also ranked seventh in power play goals against and despite allowing 39 high-danger chances against (HDCA), he was only on the ice for six high-danger goals. Finally, his on-ice save percentage (oiSV%) was just outside the top ten, clocking in at 88.24.
Unlike Beagle, Sutter will eventually return to the Canucks lineup. Currently battling COVID-19 complications, his presence will be welcomed back with open arms as he is arguably, next to Motte, the best penalty-killing forward they have right now. Lammikko has done an okay job filling in for him, but he’s no Sutter when it comes to faceoffs and overall penalty killing. He might develop into that one day, but the veteran center who has played 770 games over 13 seasons is still one of the best the league has to offer.
Motte’s Return Can’t Come Soon Enough
Motte won’t singlehandedly fix the penalty kill when he returns to the Canucks lineup, but he will certainly make it a lot better. His combination of speed, smarts, and overall work ethic has been missed dearly not only on the penalty kill but at even strength as well. The energy he brings to the ice every shift is infectious and makes the whole team better. It doesn’t matter what time of the game it is. He also can score shorthanded, as he did brilliantly in the playoffs against Alex Pietrangelo and the St. Louis Blues in 2020.
It’s not just the eye test that favours Motte on the penalty kill. The advanced stats do too, as he has consistently posted a ridiculously high average oiSV% over the 211 games he’s been in the NHL. With an 89 oiSV% and only 33 power play goals against in his career, he has become somewhat of a penalty-killing specialist. The Canucks need him back in the lineup to continue what he does best and that’s kill penalties.
Where is Brad Shaw and His Penalty Killing Prowess?
When Brad Shaw was hired away from the Columbus Blue Jackets, everyone was praising the decision to add him to Travis Green’s coaching staff. Well, why not? He was called the defence whisperer and one of the best penalty-killing coaches in the NHL and was expected to improve the defensive structure ten-fold. Except, despite the Canucks looking a little better defensively, the penalty kill has looked the worst it has looked in years.
Now, we might have to give Shaw the benefit of the doubt for now until he gets Motte and Sutter back in the lineup. Though, a little bit of the blame should still go on the coaching staff regardless. He’s proven in the past with the Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues that he can create a suffocating penalty-killing system, so the pressure is on to deliver at least a little bit of that success to the Canucks even without the skill right now.
Benning should also get some heat for not giving the coaching staff enough to work with depth-wise. When Sutter and Motte were deemed unfit to start the season, he should have gone out and searched for another solid veteran penalty killer. Lammikko was an okay addition, but his past doesn’t scream specialist by any means.
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All in all, the Canucks need their penalty kill to start winning games and not losing them. The success of the power play saved them last game, but if they continue to bleed goals shorthanded, it’s going to be a tough hill to climb to make it into the top-16 when April rolls around in a few months.