While it is unrealistic to expect the Canucks’ to repeat the franchise-best season they had last year, fans still expected a better start than this. The Canucks are 9-9-1 through 19 games, capped off by a frustrating loss to the Blackhawks on Wednesday. There are many who see an echo to last year’s game 19, a 7-1 thrashing at the hand of the ‘Hawks that came to be known as the Voldemort game. Here’s the thing: at that time, the Canucks had a record of 10-6-3. The Canucks have gotten off to a worse start than last year, and last year caused endless hand wringing.
The issue thus far for the Canucks is neatly demonstrated by Wednesday’s game in conjunction with their previous meeting with the Blackhawks. Back on November 6th, the Canucks systematically took apart the Blackhawks in a 6-2 victory. 5 of their 6 goals in that game were scored on the powerplay. On Wednesday, the Canucks didn’t receive any powerplays and only scored one goal. The common factor: in both games, the Canucks only managed one goal at even-strength.
The Canucks’ special teams has been outstanding to start the season. They lead the league in powerplay percentage, scoring on 26.7% of their powerplays, and have killed 84.4% of their opponents’ powerplay opportunities, good for 12th in the NHL. Their combined special teams percentage is a league-best 111.1%, just ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While there are still some kinks to be worked out of the penalty kill, it certainly hasn’t been the cause of the Canucks’ early-season issues.
Even-strength is another story altogether. Their goal differential at even-strength, disregarding empty net goals, is tied for 25th in the NHL at minus-9.
Last season, the Canucks finished second in even-strength goal differential to none other than the Boston Bruins, who are once again leading the league in that statistic this season. It should be immediately clear why even-strength production is so important. When the Canucks’ powerplay faltered in the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins won the even-strength battle. So far this season, it appears that the Canucks have regressed at even-strength.
Thankfully, all is not lost. In fact, according to Cam Charron, the Canucks may have actually been better at even-strength this season than they were at this point last season. He uses a specific facet of the Corsi rating (a statistic that measures puck possession through shot-attempt differential) that only measures shots while the score is tied. By only using Corsi data from when the score is tied, it eliminates what is known as “score effects.” Basically, when a team is up or down by a goal or more, their style of play will change, which affects the number of shots they direct towards the other team’s net and vice versa.
Charron found that the Canucks’ Corsi rating during tie games is actually higher through 19 games than it was in any of their previous 3 seasons. The difference this season is this year’s most-talked about advanced statistic, PDO. The Canucks’ PDO through 19 games is an abysmal 966, lower than any of their previous 3 seasons. While I am sceptical that PDO is entirely luck-based, it is at least partially or even mostly luck-based, meaning the Canucks’ fortunes at even-strength should be changing soon.
16 of the 23 Canucks who have played at least one game this season have PDO numbers below 1000. That can’t and won’t continue. It isn’t too surprising to see struggling secondary scorers like Ryan Kesler, David Booth, Cody Hodgson, and Christopher Higgins below 1000. Booth, in particular, has a lousy 873 PDO number while simultaneously boasting the second highest relative Corsi rating on the team. Booth will turn things around at even-strength, as will the rest of the team.Tags: Canucks, Even-strength goal differential, featured, Statistics, Stats