One of the concerns this preseason for the Vancouver Canucks has been the penalty kill. The team has a 70 percent efficiency rate and has had problems clearing the puck throughout the exhibition season. If they do not adjust their techniques and work on this aspect of their game, it could affect whether or not they make the playoffs this season.
Canucks Penalty Kill Last Season
During the 2020-21 season, the Canucks ranked 17th in the league on the penalty kill with a 79.8 percent efficiency rate. Part of the problem was injuries and COVID-19, but it also had to do with the scheme. The team gave up the second most high danger chances while shorthanded last season in the league with 108. Only St. Louis had more with 110.
In response, the Canucks hired Brad Shaw, who was part of the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. Despite the Blue Jackets finishing lower than the Canucks in penalty kill efficiency, they were one of the best teams in preventing scoring chances while shorthanded. They had the lowest number of high-danger chances against and scoring chances against and finished eight in power-play goals allowed with 28. They were also one of the least penalized teams in the league. The hope is Shaw can bring some of that magic to Vancouver and help out a penalty kill unit that struggled last season and will be without their top penalty-killer Alex Edler, who signed with the Kings this offseason.
Canucks’ Penalty Problems
The Canucks have been shorthanded 30 times in the first five preseason games. One of the biggest reasons for this is the NHL’s new crackdown on cross-checking. During the Kraken’s 4-0 win over Vancouver on Oct. 5, five of the 12 total penalties assessed during the game were cross-checking. The NHL is trying to make the game safer and is adamant that their cross-checking crackdown will last the entire season. If so, the Canucks will need to adjust their tactics to ensure there is no parade to the penalty box every game.
Last season, the Canucks had the third-highest penalty-kills per game with 3.27. So far this preseason, they are averaging six per game. The team needs to find a way to become more disciplined. Some may argue that players who are bound for the AHL are taking penalties, but in the 4-0 loss to Seattle, players who are locks on the team were taking unnecessary penalties, like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers. It is early, but it’s never a good sign when a team is shorthanded 13 times combined in games five and six of the preseason where most of the NHL roster is playing.
Canucks’ Analytics Through the Preseason
Analytics are available for four of the six preseason games so far. The only two missing are the first two games of the exhibition season. Despite the missing information, they paint a problematic picture, as the games available featured more of an NHL-ready lineup than the first two games.
The data available states that the Canucks were shorthanded for a total of 37:29 during the four games. In that time, they gave up 38 shots and five goals. They also gave up 34 scoring chances against, with 12 of those being high-danger chances. This has led to Vancouver goalies posting an 89.19% save percentage through the four games.
Individually, some of the Canucks’ regulars have struggled while shorthanded. Tyler Myers has been the defensive penalty kill minute leader, playing 14:24 in two games. He has been on the ice for 11 scoring chances against during that time, with seven of those designated as high danger. Jason Dickinson, the forward leader with 13:45 in three games, has seen 16 scoring chances against, with eight being high-danger chances. These are two players that are expected to play significant roles on the penalty kill this season. It is early, but this is a trend to watch as Vancouver wraps up their preseason and gets ready for the regular season.
It’s Still Early
The good news is these games do not count, and there is still time to get better. Players are still getting used to the new rules and the game’s pace after a long offseason. However, it is concerning if these habits and their play continue into the first few regular-season games. If it does, it could be a challenging season for Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halák as they will have to play above expected for Vancouver to have a chance in 2021-22.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at https://www.area51sportsnetwork.com/ where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.