Drance Numbers: What’s behind the Canucks’ powerplay power outage?

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at the Canucks’ slumping powerplay.

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Vancouver’s hockey fans have high and often unreasonable expectations for this version of the Canucks. Over the past month, the team has struggled to dominate opponents with their usual zest, and as a result, they’re compared to the living dead in the press.

This is despite being undefeated over their last ten games.

Frankly, the Vancouver Canucks don’t have real problems (besides a minority quasi-criminal element in the fan-base). What they have are the NHL equivalent of “first world problems,” or, “division wrapped up in mid-January problems.” Among these: the recent “power-outage” that has caused their league leading power-play unit to slump over the past 15 games.

The Canucks haven’t scored two powerplay goals in a game since they scored four (in eleven opportunities) against the Boston Bruins in early January. Following the game in Boston, the Canucks had scored 39 times on the power-play in 42 games. In the fifteen games since, they’ve only managed to add 7 powerplay goals to their cumulative total. What’s going on?

It's been quite awhile since the Sedins have been mugged.

The most important point is that they’ve received significantly fewer powerplay chances over the past six weeks. Since their 11 opportunities against Boston, the Canucks have seen only 40 man advantage situations. That’s their lowest total over a 15-game stretch since the lockout (the next closest was a stretch from February 1st to March 3rd last season, where they only received 43 powerplay opportunities). In part, the decrease in opportunities received corresponds with a general, league-wide trend, but I’d suggest to you that there are other, unique factors at play as well.

In particular, going by corsi, fenwick and shot percentage (which we use as indicators of puck-possession), the Canucks have been chasing the play more over the past 15 games than they were previously. The Canucks’ “style” over the past few seasons has been to dominate possession, but that hasn’t been the case this calendar year. Generally speaking, it’s tough to draw penalties without the puck.

Secondly, I’d suggest to you that opposing teams are making a greater effort to play “disciplined” hockey against the Canucks. After Vancouver lost in an extremely dirty Stanley Cup Final series to the Bruins in June, a line of conventional wisdom emerged that considered the Canucks “soft.” The team hasn’t carried a heavyweight enforcer on the roster since they traded Darcy Hordichuk in the fall of 2011, and there were times this season when it seemed as though teams were trying to beat the Canucks by “gooning it up.”

This “goon” approach reached its high watermark in a series of games in early December, when the Avalanche and Senators took liberties with Vancouver’s skilled forwards (David Booth and Cody Hodgson in particular). In the Ottawa game, Chris Neil even led the Senators in ice-time. But it didn’t work. Clearly Ottawa and Colorado forgot that they don’t employ the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and TIm Thomas, and the results weren’t pretty, as the Canucks skated to a series of easy blowouts, powered largely by their efficiency with the man advantage.

I’d suggest to you that the Canucks refuted the “goon” approach when they scored four powerplay goals in January’s game against the same Bruins squad that manhandled them in June. Before the game in Boston, the Canucks were averaging slightly more than 4 powerplay opportunities per game. Since then, that number is down to 2.6 opportunities per game. It may be a sample-size driven coincidence, but I suspect it isn’t. After all, when was the last time you saw a Sedin get mugged with a borderline hit or a needless post-whistle cheap shot? Is it possible the powerplay is finally beginning to act as the enforcer the Canucks have been touting for a year and a half now?

Though the Canucks are drawing fewer penalties and getting fewer opportunities on the power-play, that’s really only half the story. The other half: the team is measurably struggling to generate shots and scoring chances with the efficiency they managed in the first three months of the season.

(I’ll use a simple table to demonstrate this, but first a reminder about what exactly a scoring chance is. Scoring chances are tracked manually by Cam Charron and I over at Canucks Army. A chance is counted any time a team directs a shot cleanly on-net from within home-plate. Shots on goal and misses are counted, but blocked shots are not (unless the player who blocks the shot is “acting like a goaltender”). Generally speaking, we are more generous with the boundaries of home-plate if there is dangerous puck movement immediately preceding the scoring chance, or if the scoring chance is screened. If you want to get a visual handle on home-plate, check this image. A big thank you to Vic Ferrari is in order in all of those, because his timeonice.com scripts enable the entire operation.)

The table below is broken up by the Boston game. It includes the Canucks’ powerplay capitalization rate, total powerplay time on ice, powerplay shooting percentage, and rate of shots and scoring chances for every two minutes of powerplay icetime. The rates are intended to give us an idea of how many chances or shots the Canucks are generating per powerplay opportunity.

PP TOI PP/Game PP% PP SH% Shots/PP Chances/PP
Boston and Before 256: 46 4.02 23.2% 14.7% 2.07 1.15
15 games Since 70: 28 2.6 17.5% 15.2% 1.3 0.85

 

As we can see, the Canucks’ capitalization rate is down nearly 5% points, and they’re receiving nearly one and a half fewer powerplay opportunities per game. More concerning, however, is that they’re down three quarters of a shot per powerplay opportunity, and are generating significantly fewer scoring chances as well. The Canucks themselves say it’s tough to maintain a crisp powerplay, that the team gets out of their “rhythm” when they get fewer power-play opportunities. The numbers above would bear that interpretation out.

 

Photo credits: 1. Jeff Vinnick (Getty Images).

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4 comments

  1. BedBeats
    February 17, 2012

    Loved the breakdown. From what ive witnessed so far…i fully agree that opposing teams are being prepared to tone it right the hell down with facing the Canucks. I agree that their enforcer was the fact that their PP will score more than 70-80% of the time.

    What i have also noticed is that the team is being slowed in the neutral zone…not by trapping but by keying on certain players. When was the last time you saw the Sedin line score on a rush? They have been reverting back to an exclusive cycle game…which isnt a bad thing…but i seemed to remember the new look Sedin’s being able to be just lethal on a rush…even if they get stopped on the rush, their puck retrieval was scary…and they continued pressure. Havent been seeing that too much.

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    • BedBeats
      February 17, 2012

      Also…im speculating that AV is really making an effort to create a 4 line team. They were on the cusp of it at junctures last season. Thru yr research with certain lines appearing in certain zones…im thinking this is the case. Ive been really stoked that Godson’s FO’s have been getting dramatically better as the season goes by.

      To submit yr roster…and then form a different look bottom-6 forward configuration for the enemy is actually a savvy thing.

      The best oppositional coaches know that that is an effort by the team to always have the first 2 lines press after certain line deployments. CoHo is not necessarily a bad thing on the 4th line.

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  2. DaNucklhead
    February 18, 2012

    I am less concerned by the power play’s effectiveness than I am the Canucks offensive scoring chances 5 on 5. The one thing that bothered me in the series against Boston was the diving. It seems to me this team is too dependant on the power play and therefore are willing to cheat trying to draw penalties which cost them calls when a team actually takes a penalty. When was the last time someone was called for slashing/tripping/interfering with one of the twins? Yet how many cheap hooking penalties have been called against them? (Some very much deserved) The number of non calls vs the number of calls tells me the refs are suspicious of embelishment in a Canucks game, and are therefore less likely to call a penalty they are questioning.

    Sorry, I followed a rabbit trail, but my question is how do the Canucks measure up to their opponents in 5on5 play?

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    • ArtemChubarov
      February 18, 2012

      Generally very well this season, but they got pounded in January 5-on-5 and have only begun to “win their matchups” again recently.

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