Vancouver Canucks: The good, the bad and the penalty kill

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 25: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 25, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Canucks 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 25: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 25, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Canucks 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

It is hard enough to ice a lineup hit by so many injuries, but the Vancouver Canucks may have a more pressing issue on the penalty kill. Let’s take a look at who excels and who struggles and why injuries will matter.

The Vancouver Canucks may be punching above their weight class in the early season, but their penalty kill has been very good. As of writing, they currently hold the eighth best PK in the league, holding at 86.4%. However, that notable spot could be in trouble with the recent wave of injuries.

J.D. Burke beat me to the punch, covering the Canucks penalty kill at the end of his new edition of the Mathletties. This is behind a paywall, but I will try my best to not cover exactly what he addressed.

So, if we want to figure out which regular penalty killers are good or bad, we need a way to tangibly compare them. We can’t use corsi-for percentage since the nature of the penalty kill will always produce low CF% numbers.

Instead, I want to look at how many shot attempts the team surrenders when a particular penalty killer is on the ice. Therefore, we are using shot attempts against per hour (CA/60). Additionally, the strongest and weakest penalty killers will be identified among Canucks who have played at least 20 minutes shorthanded. I will say something about Bo Horvat at the end, a point echoed by Burke, but still important to make.

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The good

One thing to look at is who gets the most shorthanded time from Travis Green. Before Jay Beagle broke his arm, he was leading forwards in shorthanded ice time. Since then, Brandon Sutter has essentially lived on the penalty kill. leading all Canucks players (including defencemen) with nearly 45 minutes. Chris Tanev leads the blue line with 41 minutes, despite playing three fewer games than the defenceman with the next highest total.

Let’s get to the stats. Our top two penalty killers based on shot suppression are Markus Granlund (CA/60 of 88.98) and Brandon Sutter (CA/60 of 95.02). These are the only Canucks players surrendering less than 100 shot attempts per hour on the penalty kill in this cohort.

What surprised me next was how close the defencemen where. The most often deployed blue liners are ranked from lowest CA/60 to highest. It is Erik Gudbranson (103.16), Chris Tanev (103.86), Alex Edler (105.88) and Ben Hutton (106.61). This puts the Canucks penalty killing defenders in roughly the middle of the league. So it’s not just the forwards doing the heavy lifting, even if Sutter is driving his line defensively.

The bad

There isn’t a lot of bad on the penalty kill, which is why it is ranked so highly this season. The team’s goaltenders are holding down the fort for now, but I don’t think we can discount the shot suppression effect from the system that Travis Green and his players run.

However, I think we should dispel a myth concerning two new players on the Canucks. The first is the aforementioned Jay Beagle. One repeated selling point about Beagle was what he would bring to the penalty kill. He would be a staple and one of the best on the team. That was partially true.

Beagle plays a lot. Like I said, Green was using him more than other forward shorthanded before his injury. However, Beagle surrenders 110.81 shot attempts per hour when he’s out there. Beagle also averages the most shorthanded time at 4:26. The sad thing is, Beagle is doing better on the penalty kill than last year (clearing a sadly low bar). Compare that to what Sutter and Granlund are accomplishing. It almost seems like we aren’t getting an upgrade on the penalty kill and the same players from last year are doing the heavy lifting.

What may be more alarming is Tim Schaller. Regardless of playing time, he surrenders the most shorthanded shot attempts by a significant margin (118.54). I was curious about his dubious numbers, so I wanted to see what he did last year in Boston. It appears that Schaller is doing a lot worse than last year. He played over 150 shorthanded minutes and had a CA/60 of 102.46. You could say that is due to a new system and a new team, but maybe Schaller was just a passenger on the league’s third best penalty kill last year.

The replacements

Without Sutter and Beagle, Travis Green will have to look elsewhere in his lineup. The Canucks did call up Brendan Gaunce and Darren Archibald, so I hope they are placed onto the penalty kill as soon as possible. Also, Loui Eriksson has not played much on the penalty kill. This would be an area of expertise for him, so I don’t see why Green wouldn’t give him shorthanded minutes again.

I am trying to find alternatives so we can avoid having Horvat in there. He is not a good penalty killer and from the small sample of shorthanded time this season, he already has a CA/60 of 107.46. Green should have several options at forward and Gaunce can play centre. But he may default to Horvat on the penalty kill and that’s where things can take a hit. I criticize Sutter about a lot of things, but his penalty killing is a strength that Horvat is unable to replace.

On defence, Troy Stecher should receive an expanded role (he is only at 18 minutes, yet has a CA/60 of 69.74). It’s crazy that Stecher has not hit 20 minutes of shorthanded time yet since he was the best penalty killer on the Canucks last season. He is better than Erik Gudbranson and I’m starting to think that playing Guddy in lighter minutes will be better for him and team in the long run. Green is squandering an opportunity by not leaning on Stecher and overplaying his guys out there is leading to injuries.

Looking on the left side, I dread the thought of Michael Del Zotto getting time on the penalty kill again, but there aren’t any better options available. Unless Green wants to play Hutton for all shorthanded minutes, we are stuck with watching Del Zotto out there.

Next. Vancouver Canucks: Power rankings through week 4. dark

This rash of injuries stretches the lineup thinly. And unfortunately, the Canucks won’t be able to outscore their defensive problems. Special teams has carried this team a long way so far and with key injuries on both, the team will need to rely on even strength play. That’s where things can get pretty ugly. There may be one player on this roster that can continue to mask these shortcomings, but he does not play 60 minutes a night. Something will have to give and unfortunately, I think we will see that first on the penalty kill.

*Stats sourced from and Natural Stat Trick