Since the second period of that April 1st game in San Jose, the Canucks have killed off 26 straight short-handed situations including four more on Tuesday night in St. Louis. That’s a span of seven and a half games in which the Canucks have turned away opponents while they worked with the man-advantage.
After blanking the Blues, the Canucks penalty killing sits ninth in the National Hockey league at 84.2%. That puts it close to the level it has been at the past two seasons when it’s been among the top units in the NHL. In 2010-11, the Canucks were third in the league at 85.6% and last season their success rate rose to 86.0% although their ranking dropped to sixth overall.
So the recent run of penalty killing success has them back in familiar territory, but that only tells part of the story.
In their first 21 games this season, the Canucks gave up 17 power play goals on 82 attempts. After a March 3rd loss in Calgary, the Canucks penalty killing was struggling at 79.3% and was 20th in the NHL.
In short, the Canucks penalty killing was on some nights costing them hockey games in the first six weeks of the season. But of late, the Canucks have been terrific while shorthanded and often a key penalty kill, can be a buzz kill, too – denying opponents not only the chance to score, but to seize momentum at key moments in hockey games.
Led by the amped up performance of Cory Schneider (and at times Roberto Luongo), aided by the return of a healthy Ryan Kesler and bolstered by the trade deadline acquisition of Derek Roy, the Canucks penalty killing is finding the form it will require to shut down opponents in the postseason. But it’s more than just those three players. Penalty killing success comes from an increased battle level from every guy put in that situation willing to sacrifice to block shots and to outhustle and outmuscle opponents to loose pucks.
In the 22 games since that loss at the Saddledome, the Canucks have allowed just seven power play goals the past 70 times they’ve been down a man meaning they’ve killed off 90% of their penalties over the past six weeks. That’s one of the big reasons this team has been able to post a 13-6-3 record during that stretch.
On Tuesday night in St. Louis, there was no question that Schneider was the Canucks best penalty killer. The netminder turned aside all eight power play shots the Blues generated – several of them Grade A opportunities. But on many nights recently, the players in front of the Canucks goaltenders have done a terrific job reducing their workload in short-handed situations by filling shooting lanes and limiting the number of shots that ultimately make it through to the net.
In the five games prior to the battle with the Blues, the Canucks had given up a total of five power play shots. That speaks to the job the Canucks are doing pressuring opponents, forcing turnovers, clearing the zone and forcing teams to go all the way back into their own end to regroup.
With the playoffs now on the horizon, the Vancouver Canucks have to find a way to keep their penalty killing razor sharp. Combined with a power play that is showing more life than at any point since the first week of the season (at least one goal in five of the past seven games), the Canucks looked like they’ll head into the post-season with special teams that could be difference makers.
Those two things don’t guarantee playoff success, but they most-definitely could play a role in it.