It might be the most under-discussed aspect of the Vancouver Canucks right now.
Have we all just accepted that the Canucks have a historically inept penalty kill?
There are a number of reasons why the Canucks are well outside of the playoff picture, but arguably, the No. 1 reason why they’ll likely miss the postseason in 2023 is that they have one of the worst penalty kills in NHL history.
Last season, the Canucks had the same issue during the last days of Travis Green. They were on pace for the worst penalty kill in NHL history before Bruce Boudreau took over.
While Boudreau helped the Canucks climb out of the PK cellar, this group has once again proven unable to kill off penalties consistently.
Canucks on the verge of making history
Currently, the Canucks have killed off 68.1% of their penalties through 39 games, which puts them on pace for the worst penalty kill in NHL history.
Since the NHL began keeping the stat in 1977-78, the Los Angeles Kings hold the league record for worst single-season penalty-kill percentage at 68.2%, achieved in 1979-80. The 1984-85 Canucks have the fourth-worst PK% on record, not counting this season’s incomplete results.
Who are the Canucks’ main PK culprits?
All of them?
One of the things that worked for the Canucks’ penalty kill last season after Boudreau took over was the infusion of top-end talent. Players such as Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes took on larger penalty-killing roles.
Well, those players have been key figures shorthanded this season, but they just haven’t had the same success.
Hughes is actually worst among all Canuck penalty killers with an expected goals-against of 9.95/60 at four-on-five. That total is 35th worst among 400+ NHLers to play at least 10 minutes at four-on-five.
One thing you notice is Hughes being slightly too aggressive while shorthanded. This happened recently against the New York Islanders when JP Pageau scored a power play goal.
In the clip below, Hughes gets caught too far away from his own net, and he can’t get back to Pageau in time before he scores.
JGP with the PPG!! pic.twitter.com/9f8DmTzD5J
— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) January 4, 2023
Hughes, however, is a secondary penalty killer. Horvat and Pettersson, on the other hand, lead all Canucks forwards in shorthanded ice time. All three of the Canucks stars rank last on the team in terms of expected goals against and high-danger scoring chances against while shorthanded.
Ethan Bear, who’s been applauded for a strong performance to begin his Canucks career, hasn’t been good shorthanded. Recently, he’s been paired with Tyler Myers, another right-shot defenceman, as the Canucks top penalty-killing duo.
After being one of Vancouver’s most relied upon penalty killers in October, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has averaged the least amount of shorthanded ice time among Canucks blueliners since November 1 (minimum five games played). Travis Dermott and Luke Schenn have taken over as the second pair over the boards to kill penalties.
Statistically, no one has been stellar at four-on-five. Ilya Mikheyev stands out as the best Canucks forward in that capacity. He has the lowest expected goals against the high danger chances against per-60 among regular Canucks penalty killers. Dakota Joshua has been statistically strong in spot duty, although the opposition has scored on a whopping 50% of their shots while he’s been on the ice.
That really signifies the other issue with the Canucks penalty kill, which is goaltending.
Canucks PK has been surprisingly unlucky
You’d expect that a PK that’s on pace to be the worst ever would rank near the bottom in every noteworthy statistical category.
Not so fast.
Here’s where the Canucks rank league-wide while playing at four-on-five:
- Shot attempts against: 100.46 (12th)
- Expected goals against: 7.54 (15th)
- High-danger chances against: 25.11 (16th)
So, if the Canucks are basically league-average in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances against, why are they on pace for the worst penalty kill in NHL history?
Well, there are two key categories where they rank last in the league.
The Canucks save percentage at four-on-five is a paltry 78.4%, which is last in the league. Unsurprisingly, that also means they’ve allowed the most goals per 60 (11.62).
A key narrative this season has been that the Canucks defence does the goalie no favours. While that’s true, there also haven’t been a lot of big shorthanded saves, either.
According to Natural Stat Trick, which has data going back 16 years to the 2007-08 season, no team in recent history has finished with a save percentage below 80% at four-on-five.
There’s a good chance that the Canucks won’t finish with the worst penalty kill in league history, but they’ll need a few big saves in order to do so.
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