Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson outscores team’s problems

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 2: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks waves to fans after winning their NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena November 2, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 7-6. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 2: Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks waves to fans after winning their NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena November 2, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 7-6. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Elias Pettersson has captured the hearts of Vancouver Canucks fans far and wide. Despite how bad the team is, he is dragging this team around to a respectable place. But what are the implications for this going forward?

That was some game last night. Instead of the usual 3 takeaways, I wanted to take a look at what is happening at this early point of the season. Elias Pettersson has been nothing short of spectacular for the Vancouver Canucks, dominating the NHL rookie scoring race early and even getting the respect from Eastern media without the help of Jason Botchford.

All eyes are on Vancouver, and for once, it’s not the same look of pity and confusion that is usually reserved for the Edmonton Oilers. Again, it’s still early in the season, but we have people acting like the Canucks made the playoffs today.

Ignoring that, I thought long and hard about something after the game. Sure, it was incredible to watch that back and forth yesterday and if you were a goaltender, you want to pretend that the night never happened. But I think CanucksArmy’s Jackson McDonald summed it up best with this first tweet in a thread.

He is right about several things. The Canucks are ranked 28th in the league by corsi for percentage. The team they played last night was ranked 25th. I guess both teams have the advantage of being propped up by superstars.

But the end of what was in the tweet was very interesting. Despite how bad the team should be and will get to that shortly, it’s an incredible sight to see that we have enough firepower to overcome those shortcomings. It shouldn’t make sense and will likely come back to bite the team, but for now, it’s working.

The high-scoring games are fun for fans, even if the stress will shorten the lifespans of Travis Green and his coaching staff. And if we end up with more in the losses column by April, those on Team Tank will not complain. We have said this time and time again, we don’t just want losses out of spite. It’s a means to an end and if we can get there while the journey is fun, even better. And as an aside, I do hope this is the last year of tanking, but we will see. The trade deadline and next offseason is key. But let’s take a look at why this team is overachieving right now.

Poor shot metrics and odd goaltending

As I mentioned earlier, the Canucks are near the bottom of the league in generating shot attempts. Blocking shots doesn’t seem to helping either, with a Fenwick rating near the bottom of the league as well.

Despite scoring seven goals last night, the team still gave up six. They have an 5v5 goal differential of -6 and even throwing in special teams has them being outscored by the opposition. They are certainly fun to watch, but far from a good team.

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Let’s talk about the goaltending. As of now, the Canucks don’t have the best goaltending and not just because Jacob Markstrom did his best impression of a sieve last night. Marky has an even strength save percentage of .896. To be fair to him, he is underachieving with an expected save percentage of .917.

What’s far more concerning is his goals saved above average. With a GSAA of -4.79, Markstrom is giving up five more goals than the average NHL goaltender. Of the 40 goaltenders to play at least 200 minutes this season, that ranks 37th.

Anders Nilsson has been better, but barely makes the cohort cutoff with 265 minutes played. Markstrom has played 417 minutes. But lets just give you the quick hits for Nilsson. Even strength save percentage of .924 with an expected save percentage of .920. GSAA is 0.63, so his limited play fits with the NHL average for now. However, things are not so rosy when we add in special teams. Markstrom has a .899 save percentage and Nilsson is at .912.

Teams don’t win with that kind of goaltending. So how do they do it? Well, I can think of two reasons that somewhat overlap. First is special teams. Despite the injuries, the Canucks have the 17th best power play (20.4%) and eighth best penalty kill (82.1%). The second reason is the effect from their start players, specifically Elias Pettersson.

Here are more reasons why Elias Pettersson is so good

Besides giving me more reasons to praise Pettersson, let’s go through the notes. The Golden Boy has nine goals and six assists in nine games. Pettersson is tied for 8th in the NHL for goals scored and 20th in points. Did I forget to say he’s only played nine games? He hasn’t officially burned the first year of his entry-level deal yet and is tied for the top 10 in league goals.

Pettersson is a truly special player, but Canucks fans knew that long before the rest of the league caught on. He has positive corsi numbers and it’s not surprising that he spends more time in the offensive zone generating chances instead of chasing the play in his own end.

Pettersson is electric, talented and fits the proper definition of a franchise hockey player. He is the kind of player Team Tank points to justify our cause and the separation between him and Brock Boeser makes it pretty hard to deny that.

Now, is Pettersson riding on a few hot percentages? Of course he is. His current all-situations shooting percentage is 39.1. Pettersson has an insane individual PDO of 109. Surprisingly, it’s not the highest on the team. That honour goes to Brendan Gaunce, holding down a PDO of 133. Remember, 100 is where you want to be to minimize the effect of good or bad luck. Gaunce will certainly cool off, but what about Pettersson? I have no idea at this point.

But let’s look at the team. The Canucks are tied for the ninth highest on-ice shooting percentage (10%), but have the 24th best on-ice save percentage (.903). It looks like offence is balancing out poorer play elsewhere. We can’t pretend that’s not happening out there with the rough goaltending and defence being made up for by Elias Pettersson and company. The goaltending isn’t awful, but for the Canucks to keep winning at this rate, it has to be better.

What this means

We circle back to the top of the discussion where Jackson says the team is outscoring their problems and that is largely because of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Sure, it’s not sustainable, but is entertaining.

However, there is something important to think about. There are people telling me the tank is dead. It’s only November, but fans are adamant about a better team this year. They do have a point. The Pacfiic division is awful this year and regardless of how worse the Canucks are relative to outside of the division, it won’t matter. They just have to make one of the top three spots of the division (assuming a wild card crossover from the Central division).

This team could make the playoffs by accident, or even worse just miss the playoffs by a handful of points. Why is that worse? Because that is the dreaded No Man’s Land that teams should fear. Being too mediocre to make the playoffs, but not poor enough to take advantage of the NHL’s rewards for losing.

I do believe we can stop chasing losses with a top two selection, especially if we are lucky enough to unite the Hughes brothers. But this could be another case of short-term winning that compromises the long-term outlook of this franchise. Will things even out this season and put the Canucks back in their place by January? The last three seasons tell me yes. But Pettersson could be special enough to ride this PDO wave all season long. In a year where Vancouver hosts the draft, it would be just typical of them to play too well and pick in the middle of the first round.

Maybe it’s just the pessimist in me, but I don’t want Pettersson’s career to be dragged down by an average team. I want him to get the chance to recreate what we saw in 2011 and 1994 more than once. But Jim Benning needs to help him out. It’s more difficult than ever to win the Stanley Cup in the salary cap era and relying on luck required with old management techniques is not the best strategy.

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Even the best teams lose. Canucks fans should know, since that 2011 team was one of them. Maybe I’m just being selfish, but I think we owe it to Pettersson. He deserves more than one chance at a Stanley Cup. And I think the best way to do that is to build the best team possible. The thing is, the clock is ticking. I’m not sure if the Canucks realize this, but time will tell. This isn’t the time to sit back from a job well done. It’s only the beginning, which is frustrating after five years.

*Stats used from, Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Corsica