Elite goaltender and best power play in the league – that’s good. An even-matched game that ranks near the bottom of the NHL both offensively and defensively – that’s the wrong one. The Canucks are a team that has been pulling in opposite directions lately with spectacular strengths and equally spectacular weaknesses.
We covered Thatcher Demko’s remarkable play and why he should be part of the Vezina Trophy conversation. So, let’s take a look at the three things that led to the Canucks’ recent power-play success.
One – The escape
A major improvement to the Canucks’ power play this month is its ability to transition from the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone. That had been a problem for the Canucks this season, who in January and February placed 22nd for successfully transitioning the puck from their own side to the offensive side. In March, the Canucks placed third in the NHL, succeeding 93% of the time. Those clean and successful breakouts led directly to half of their eight power play goals in March.
The Canucks take a different look at opposing penalty killers and do a good job not only entering the attacking zone to prepare, but also hitting quickly, as evidenced by this power play goal against Toronto.
Two games earlier against the Leafs, Tyler Myers led a breakout that looked like an inverted Flying-V. Jake Virtanen capitalized on a nice entry to the zone with a shortid goal.
There’s an element of unpredictability that’s been working for the Canucks on their breakouts lately. We all know Quinn Hughes can skate the puck, but their outings and inlets work because they use different patterns, which makes it harder to play the game plan against them.
The ability to recuperate shooting attempts to extend possession in the attacking zone is critically important to any successful power play. The Canucks did a great job in that regard during their recent hot stretch on the power play.
The best example of this was against the Edmonton Oilers when Bo Horvat recovered a slot shot attempt to maintain Canucks possession. Moments later, he drove the puck into the net after a scramble past Mikko Koskinen.
Three – Brock Boeser
As important as it is to perform in areas like breakouts and hit recovery, having a guy like Brock Boeser who can wire up some punches is a nice luxury. Boeser’s booming shot from the left face-off circle is responsible for three of the Canucks’ eight power play goals in March. With Elias Pettersson out of the roster, Boeser stepped up his game in all situations, including the power play. Boeser’s three power play goals in March are tied for fourth in the NHL.
With Horvat – who plays a central role in the bumper position on the power play – listed as a game time decision, Boeser becomes all the more important to the Canucks over the man advantage.
Vancouver is already without centers Pettersson and Jay Beagle, and Horvat and Brandon Sutter are listed as day to day. If the Canucks are forced to play without their starting four centers, it will be quite unfair to expect them to end up on the good side of things evenly. However, this is where Vancouver will need to improve to make a serious run for a playoff berth. Demko keeps his team in games and the power play success in March provided a welcome and much-needed boost on offense. Prior to this month, the Canucks were converting at a rate of 15.9 percent, good for 24th overall.
The special teams battle will be one to watch on Wednesday as the Canucks prepare for their rematch with the Winnipeg Jets. Both teams were 0-to-1 on Monday, but like the Canucks, the Jets’ power play also transforms on over 30% of its opportunities in March – 30.8% to be exact, which ranks sixth in the standings. general.