By: Trent Leith / November 15, 2023
The Canucks wrapped up a three-game road trip through Eastern Canada on Sunday night in a 5-2 game against the Montreal Canadiens after playing the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
An Eastern road trip usually poses a challenge for the Canucks simply due to travel, but the Canucks took a total of four points from a possible six. Interestingly enough, all three games ended in a 5-2 final, with the Canucks being victorious over the Senators and the Canadiens, but falling handily to the Maple Leafs.
At StadiumChinatown.ca, we break down each week that was in Canucks hockey in a way that simply fills in the blanks. In this article, however, I plan on diving into the entire road trip with detail and analytics, rather than just the weekly highlights.
Ottawa Senators on Thursday
The Canucks opened the road trip facing the Ottawa Senators, who were in the second leg of a back-to-back (this will be a theme on this road trip) in which they beat the Leafs 6-3. However, the Senators’ luck would end there with the Canucks beating them 5-2.
The Canucks would be the first to tell you that they were sloppy on Thursday despite a heavy-handed victory. “You’re going to have to win some ugly ones,” JT Miller told the media. “It’s important we don’t get too frustrated by not playing exactly how we want to play, but at the same time, learn from the bad and look at the good.”
By the end of the game, the Senators had outshot the Canucks nearly 2:1, putting up 30 shots to the Canucks’ 16. Despite this, the Canucks scored almost every third shot and ended with only 1.84 Expected Goals in their 5-2 win. Anton Forsberg had only a 0.688 SV% on the night, letting in 3.16 goals above expected. Not a great night for Forsberg.
It was the Canucks’ top-end players doing all the damage with Mikheyev getting two goals, and Boeser, Pettersson, and Miller all collecting a goal each. These are high-efficiency goal scorers, but even so, those four players shot 62.5% on the night while the entire team shot 31.25%. The league average shooting percentage this year is 10.2%, The Canucks were shooting with incredible efficiency and luck.
The Canucks no doubt had luck on their side on Thursday night. They only had 44.31% of the expected goals on the night but also made sure to capitalize on creating chances owning the lion’s share of high-danger chances.
I don’t want to bring it up, but a large part of why they won this game is due to their astronomically high PDO of 1.25. PDO is often inflated by a strong goaltender, which Thatcher Demko is undoubtedly, and high-efficiency scorers, which the Canucks also have, so while the PDO is bound to regress, it will likely remain above average when the team is at the peak of its form.
Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday
Canucks fans have been battling hard with Toronto media, specifically about underrating the Canucks this year and accusing them of not staying up late to watch Canucks games. This was the Canucks chance to prove the media wrong, and in classic Canucks fashion, this was the only game they lost despite the Leafs coming off a back-to-back as well.
This game was one of only four games the Canucks have lost this year. The only four games this season where the team PDO was below 1.00 were the same four games that they lost, this one being the lowest with 0.833.
The Canucks had 55.64% Expected Goals but were on the flip side of the PDO battle and as a result, lost the game. The Canucks outshot the Leafs 33-22 but had a below-average shooting percentage of just 6.06% and some uncharacteristically bad goaltending with 0.772 SV%. If you combine those numbers you get a 0.833 PDO, and a long shot to win a hockey game.
Chester is right, despite having only 0.56 Expected Goals, the Leafs put up two actual goals in the third period. Sometimes that’s just how a hockey game goes, it’s largely random and being able to capitalize on luck, and the Leafs did that well in this game, whereas the Canucks did not.
The Montreal Canadiens on Sunday
The Canucks bounced back from a losing effort in Toronto with another game against an unrested opponent. The Habs also played the night prior and the Canucks were able to win again, and would you look at that, their PDO was back above 1.00 (1.08).
This wasn’t a game purely driven by luck; this was a game driven by a strong save percentage from Casey DeSmith (.941) and a volume of shots (35). The Canucks were still shooting over 4% above the league average, but their 14.29% shooting percentage was a far more reasonable number than the 31.25% they were shooting in Ottawa. Funnily enough, the 14.29% shooting average in this game was below the Canucks season average of 15.3%.
In the totality of the game, the Canucks edged out the Habs in nearly every “Fancy stat” publicly available, if only by a small margin. But where the edge was noticed the most was in the net. Jake Allen played a pretty average game with a 3.06 GAA and a 0.909 SV%, whereas DeSmith had a 0.941 SV% and a 2.02 GAA. If we want to dive even deeper, Allen only had a 0.778 HDSV%, while on the other end of the rink, DeSmith had a 0.923 HDSV%.
The thing about the Canucks this season is, yes, everything is breaking right for them. Lady Luck is surely on their side, but the Canucks have made sure to capitalize on every opportunity they have had. When things don’t go their way, they don’t spiral like they have in previous seasons, they simply reset, trust in their systems and get back to it. And that new approach and ability to capitalize on their seemingly endless luck is what has them third in the NHL right now. Their ability to play the games in front of them and collect points is what is likely going to allow them to make the playoffs, even if their luck runs out before then.
The Oilers and Flames imploding in on themselves is also helping, but to my knowledge, there aren’t stats measuring karma.