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Dissecting the Vancouver Canucks’ Struggles: What Do the Numbers Say?

Boy, the first month of the season has been rough for one of the up-and-coming teams from a year ago. After a breakout 2019-20 season, I expected Vancouver to take another step forward toward competing for a Stanley Cup, especially coming out of the Scotia North Division. Things, unfortunately for the Canucks and their fans, have gone in the opposite direction.

Vancouver has not had the most ideal schedule, playing their first 15 games of the season over the course of 25 days. They are nearing the conclusion of a 6-game road trip over the course of 10 days with stops in Winnipeg, Montréal, and Toronto. The schedule makers did the Canucks no favors early this season. However, this fact is no excuse for how poor their play has been.

Vancouver is one of only two teams to be yielding 4 goals per game this season, with the other being the Ottawa Senators. As I discussed in my piece highlighting the strong start for the Canadiens, there is no shortage of offense in the North Division. However, allowing 4 goals per game is a major problem. Even in the North, which will continue to produce high-scoring games throughout the season, the Canucks won’t be able to make the playoffs if their hope is to simply outscore their opponent each night. Based on their current record, 6-9-0, the results are already showing they need to tighten up on defense if they have any hopes of making the playoffs.

When some people see goals against being a problem, the first thought is the goaltending. This Canucks situation is much more complex. It wouldn’t matter, after delving into the data, if Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy were between the pipes; Vancouver is playing awful defense, as a team, so far this year.

Vancouver is giving up an average of over 35 shots per game, and is on pace to be the third worst in the category in the last 20 years. The Canucks, according to Natural Stat Trick, have a terrible scoring chance ratio, only generating 44.24% of chances in their games, meaning they allow 55.76% of the chances. Those percentages are almost identical when it comes to high-danger shots and high-danger chances. That means Vancouver is not only allowing more shots than they take on a near-nightly basis, but they are consistently allowing more shots and scoring chances from high-danger areas, such as the slot, where scoring is more likely. The Canucks’ netminders aren’t saving the day, either. They are only stopping 75.21% of shots from high-danger areas.

Vancouver has a major defensive problem that needs to be addressed, with everyone on their roster, if they hope to turn their season around. Skaters need to focus on limiting opportunities from the slot, allowing the goalies to face shots with better chances to make saves. With 41 games remaining in the season, there is still time to figure things out, because they have the talent to win plenty of games. However, if they continue to allow their opponents to have so many opportunities for shots and high-danger chances, it won’t be long before the Canucks are established as a team headed for the Draft Lottery rather than the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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