Among the problems plaguing the Vancouver Canucks to start this season — and there were many — was their penalty kill.
It was costing them games, by the admission of penalty kill mainstay Jay Beagle. They gave up nine power play goals against in their first six games, which contributed to their 2-4-0 start.
The Canucks have struggled in a few areas since then, but the penalty kill hasn’t been one of them. Vancouver has killed off 41 of the last 46 power plays they’ve faced, during a stretch of 13 games.
They have turned things around, now ranking 10th in the league in penalty kill percentage, at 81.8%, as they haven’t given up a 4-on-5 goal in the past four games.
Part of their success is that they’re taking fewer penalties, which eases the burden on their penalty killers. Another contributing factor has been the emergence of J.T. Miller as a penalty killing option.
A new addition to the PK, head coach Travis Green has bucked the trend of only relying on depth forwards to kill penalties, by leaning on Miller of late. He’s been paired with Beagle on the top PK unit, with Brandon Sutter and Antoine Roussel shoring up the other unit.
So far so good for Miller, who hasn’t been on for a goal-against in 14:48 of shorthanded ice time this season.
That’s the good part. The side effect is that the Canucks already rely on Miller in so many other facets of the game.
On Monday, because of the amount of special teams time and due to the fact the Canucks were trailing for most of the third period, Miller played a whopping 24:52 — more than any other player. His minutes on the penalty kill — 4:54 — led all Canucks forwards.
“I did call Millsy in today and talked about his minutes,” Green admitted after practice today. “I don’t like them creeping up that much.”
Green says he likes Miller on the penalty kill, and intends to keep him there for the foreseeable future. But the Canucks bench boss did say that means he’ll need to cut Miller’s ice time in other areas, likely at five-on-five. The Canucks could give another player spot duty with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser in shifts after a penalty kill, perhaps using it as a reward for good play.
“You’re lucky if you can find a guy that’s very skilled and can kill penalties, and is hard enough to do it and brave enough, and he has those qualities,” added Green. “I think he’s a good penalty killer and he’s done a good job since we’ve added him.”
“There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the year of our penalty killing not doing very well and we’ve kind of clawed our way back.”