By: Brayden Fengler / November 4, 2023
The Vancouver Canucks have crossed into double digits in terms of games played, with their tenth game and seventh win of the season coming Thursday night against a last-place San Jose Sharks team.
With that win the Canucks are now sitting 5th in the entire NHL, and 2nd in the Pacific Division, only behind the league-leading Vegas Golden Knights who have played one more game. The Canucks haven’t been in the top five of the league after 10 games since the 2014-15 season.
A season that ended with a first-round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but was nevertheless a season that granted them their last playoff appearance (outside of the play-in pandemic year).
As the above highlights how the Canucks have not started this well in recent memory. And that as fearful as it may (rightfully) feel right now as a Canucks fan, I’m here to tell you, it’s okay to feel the opposite.
Hockey is supposed to be fun to watch. This team has made that hard to remember over a fair number of seasons, but this feeling of “joy”, is how sports fans should feel when things are going right, like they are for the Vancouver Canucks.
Enjoy the Good Vibes
Of course, 10 games is not the largest sample size; so yes, we shouldn’t be planning the parade route just yet, but there is also no need to feel that doom and gloom is inevitable for this team.
Not only have the Canucks won or received a point in 80% of their outings so far this season, but how the team has been winning has looked structured, impressive, and most importantly sustainable. This is something to be excited about as the team stares down 72 more games.
The Power Play
It’s exciting to say that there is a lot this team has been getting right this season, perhaps most notably their power play, which sits second in the league, first in their division, and is dominating with a 34.3% effectiveness rate. They’ve held this rate while earning 3.5 power play opportunities per game.
Coach Rick Tocchett had recently said during a game day availability that he feels his team hasn’t been drawing as many penalties as they could be, this is due to playing an up-high game when controlling position.
By the Canucks controlling and cycling the puck effectively in the opposing team’s end, it has limited their need to battle for as many pucks in the corners, which is often where many penalties are drawn. It’s a double-edged sword when a team’s position game is so strong.
Of course, every team wants to dominate possession as much as possible, but the more this craft is refined the harder it is for the opposition to get close enough to make a desperate play and draw a penalty. If the unspoken complaint here is that the Canucks are too good at attacking zone possession, I think that’s something Canucks fans can live with.
Beyond the power play, the team’s underlying numbers have been impressive as well. The Canucks have won their last few games pretty handily. Going back to their most narrow victory over the Nashville Predators on October 24th – a 3-2 Canucks win – Vancouver was far and way above Nashville in terms of shot attempts and control of play.
The Canucks’ Corsi for that game was a dominant 65.56%. They ended with nearly ten more shots than Nashville and as shown in the graph above, the quality of their shot attempts were very strong. With the majority of attempts coming from high-danger areas below the faceoff circles.
Vancouver is on the lower end of NHL teams with regards to shots per games played, with an average of 28.6. But even if the Canucks could be shooting a bit more, it’s clear that when they do shoot the puck, it’s largely been off the back of dominant possession and calculated opportunities.
Coach Rick Tocchet has not only developed systems of play that have worked well for the Canucks this season, but he has also refined and stuck with line combinations that have seemed to jell almost immediately.
On the first line, Ilya Mikheyev has served as the perfect third man to accompany Pettersson and Kuzmenko. Their line is controlling the bulk of the shooting attempts while on the ice at 56.3% Corsi for.
All three players are in the top 10 for total points on the team. This not only goes to show the effectiveness of this line, but the fact that Kuzmenko and Mikheyev are six and seven on that list, also points to the prominence of depth scoring that the team has as well.
The second line of Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller and Phillip Di Giuseppe have been top-tier as well and have been deployed more than the first line in terms of overall TOI over the last three contests. Behind Pettersson, Miller and Brock are the next two forwards with the most points on the season.
We recently wrote a piece about just how strong of an individual start Boeser has had to his season, netting the bulk of the goals on his line and leading the team with eight goals on the year.
On a team with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes playing as good as they are, it’s the team’s second-line winger that is topping the goals for category on the team. If that isn’t music to Canucks fan’s ears I don’t know what is.
Individual Super Stars
Of course, Brock Boeser has rightfully taken a lot of the spotlight during the Canucks first few games of the season, beyond Brock and his strong performance on the team so far, many other Canucks are topping NHL-wide standings.
There are three Canucks in the top 10 regarding overall production in the NHL, with Pettersson and Hughes in the top five and Miller sitting just below them at sixth.
During past years when the team has been underperforming overall, J.T. Miller or Elias Pettersson have snuck up the NHL’s leaderboard from time to time. But to now see the team’s consistent dominance go hand in hand with chart-topping individual players, is something Canucks fans should be excited about.
We can’t talk about individual performance of course without looking at Quinn Hughes, who has had a remarkable start to his first Canucks season as captain. Hughes is #1 in the league with regards to his offensive numbers, sitting with 16 points on the year, five more than Cale Makar has in the #2 spot.
Quinn is currently on a 131-point pace, averaging 1.6 points per game. Of course, these numbers will come down. His best year of production was last year with 76 points, so we shouldn’t expect Quinn to blow that number out of the water by nearly double.
However, as we near closer to American Thanksgiving, which often serves as the first check-in point for teams and players with regards to a more reliable sample size of games played, it’s great to see Hughes’ level of production so astronomically high. It’s worth noting, although that his plus-minus is also sky high at +13.
It feels weird to say, but things only look like they should be getting better for the Canucks. Their immediate rivals to the east, the Flames and Oilers are both struggling out of the gate this year, Both are sitting at the basement of the division only on top of the winless Sharks. The Canucks will play both the Oilers and the Flames before we hit the half-way mark through November.
Next up for the Canucks are facing the Central-leading Stars, followed by the Oilers and then a contest against the last-place Atlantic team in the Senators. To end the month, they will have a chance to test their worth during their first game against the league-leading Golden Knights this season on November 30th.
The red carpet hasn’t been rolled out quite yet, there is still much work to be done. However, it’s been many years since the Canucks have had this quality of personnel, and there are plenty of reasons for optimism.