The Vancouver Canucks have fared surprisingly well against the defending Stanley Cup Champions St. Louis Blues, jumping out to a 2-0 series lead before dropping Game 3 in overtime. The numbers have been impressive to say the least, both on a micro and macro level. Seven of the top 30 postseason scorers are Canucks, and Jacob Markstrom is putting on yet another spectacular performance. But is this level of success really sustainable?
The Play of the Vancouver Canucks is Unsustainable
My short answer is no, I don’t think it is.
In the first round of these playoffs, their powerplay has been operating at a simply absurd 54.6 percent clip. This is a 226 percent increase from their regular season powerplay and tops the league by a ridiculous margin. The second most productive powerplay belongs to the Calgary Flames, at 36.4 percent. While that level of production in itself is nothing short of incredible, it absolutely pales in comparison to that of the Vancouver Canucks. To put this into perspective, I looked at every playoff year all the way back to 77-78 (The earliest year NHL.com has powerplay stats for) in an attempt to find a more productive powerplay.
There was none. The highest production rate belonged to the 2009-10 Los Angeles Kings, at 38.5 percent. Simply put, the Vancouver Canucks powerplay is producing at an unprecedented clip, and it isn’t close.
Let’s look back to November, where the Canucks powerplay was on another ridiculous run of success. During the 10-day stretch of November 12th to November 21st, they scored 10 powerplay goals in just five games. It took them 14 more games to score their next 10 powerplay goals. The Vancouver Canucks have shown time and time again their streaky nature, and evidence points to this being little more than a timely hot streak. While it will come as a disappointment, it’s inevitable that this powerplay will come back down to Earth eventually.
That being said, the Canucks are dangerously dependent on their red-hot powerplay. Of their 11 goals, only four have come at even strength.
Led by the Selke winning Ryan O’Reilly, the St. Louis Blues have completely neutralized the Canucks in five-on-five play. In the first three games of the series, the Canucks team Corsi and Fenwick were as follows.
For Game 1, the Canucks had a Corsi of 40 percent and a Fenwick of 41.5 percent. In Game 2, the Canucks Corsi percent went a little bit to 41.1 percent with a Fenwick of 43.5 percent. However, Game 3 has been there worst so far. The Canucks Corsi was 38.8 percent and a Fenwick of 41.8 percent.
Let’s not mince words; That’s absolutely awful. The Canucks have yet to hold the Blues to under 30 shots, giving up an average of 39 shots per game. Meanwhile, the Canucks only average a hair over 29 shots per game.
With the Canucks opening up a shooting range for the St. Louis Blues, Jacob Markstrom has had to stand on his head yet again. He’s been his usual self this series, robbing the opposing shooters of multiple great chances each game. Below are the Blues shot charts for Games 1, 2, and 3 from Micah Blake McCurdy at hockeyviz.com
Note the concentration of shots from high danger areas, the majority of which end up as saves rather than goals. The Blues have no business scoring only two to three goals per game with those kinds of offensive chances. Despite their high number of grade-A Final, however, the St. Louis Blues are shooting well below their season average at only 7.4 percent. All due to Markstrom’s magnificent play in net.
Jordan Binnington on the other hand has been struggling immensely. With a Goals Against Average of 4.27 and Save Percentage of .862, it’s no stretch to say that he has single-handedly been taking the Blues out of games. The Canucks shooters have been taking advantage, chasing him out of the net for Game 3, and likely further.
The Vancouver Canucks lead in the series will not last long if this level of play persists. They have gotten tremendously lucky in multiple aspects, from the special teams to the goaltending. Games one and two were prime examples of an opportunistic offence meeting an ice-cold goalie, and game three exposed many of their flaws as the Blues made necessary adjustments.
The Vancouver Canucks have been able to get away with their flaws so far but will need to find another gear if they don’t want to see their short run of success come to a screeching halt. When the Canucks powerplay and goaltending cool down even moderately, and the opposing goaltender plays like he belongs in the NHL, the team will be in deep trouble as they’ll no longer be able to offset the Blues superior possession game and chance creation. As Bo Horvat said, the St. Louis Blues are the defending champions for a reason. They’ll only continue to smother the Canucks at even strength and make short work of the young team if the Canucks fail to step up to the plate.
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