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Resurgent Canucks are so much more than puck luck

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If you are waiting for a Vancouver Canucks collapse, I have bad news for you. It’s probably not coming.

A team that carries advantage play in most game states, backstopped by a Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltender in Thatcher Demko, is good enough to win against most opponents. Full stop.

If you are waiting to see what happens with this Canucks offence in the second half of the regular season, that’s a different story, and one that I’ll be closely tracking down the stretch.

To say Vancouver has had a dream start to this season would be the understatement of the century. Through Sunday’s action, the Canucks are 31-11-4 and have been blowing the doors off the competition most of the year. That’s notable in a Pacific Division with plenty of game competition, which includes the defending Stanley Cup champions, an Oilers team that hasn’t lost in a month, and a Kings team sporting a +26 goal differential that’d be good for second best in the Eastern Conference.

When a team is winning this regularly, everything has to go its way. You need to check all of the core boxes for starters: quality talent at the top of the lineup, competent depth, and certainly the goaltending behind it all. But you also need some puck luck as well.

When we talk about puck luck, we are talking about the inherent volatility every team lives through on both ends of the ice. Teams can combat some save percentage volatility by having sound defensive structure and a high-end, proven goaltender. The Canucks have that in Demko.

The same is true for shooting percentages. We expect volatility there too, but when a team is armed with playmakers and higher-end snipers, you’re capable of converting on a higher percentage of shots. Forwards like Brock Boeser (27 goals) and Elias Pettersson (25 goals) historically check those boxes.

But the Canucks as a team are taking this to unprecedented heights. Consider the below table, which shows the best shooting percentage rates we have seen in the NHL’s statistical modern era (2007-present). Vancouver is an outlier in considerable fashion:

It's notable that Vancouver’s absurd conversion rates are true when just isolated to even-strength play. This isn’t merely a power play carrying a team; the power play is just a more deadly form of their even-strength attack, which scores on 12.5 per cent of shots.

That said, the laws of regression always apply and will too for the Canucks over the second half of the year. But two other things are true: no second-half slowdown erases all of the goals and standings points the Canucks have banked in the first half, and a slowdown may only be on a relative basis. 

We might not expect Vancouver to continue scoring on a staggering 13.4 per cent of the shots they generate, but regressing them all the way towards league average (around 10 per cent in all situations) also seems specious, considering what they have been able to do over more than half of the regular season.

To illustrate both points, I’d like to borrow a comparable in the form of the Edmonton Oilers for a moment. We have seen another team with remarkable top-end talent in Edmonton follow a similar path over the years. While shooting percentages have vacillated significantly in the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era, their long-term conversion rate is notably higher than league averages.

If the Oilers are the singular team we would expect to routinely beat shooting percentage expectations, there is a beautiful irony in this season – one where they have seen their conversion rates much closer to league averages, even amidst a whopping 13-game win streak.

The Canucks may be one of the few other teams in the league, at least at the top of the lineup, that can compare to the Oilers. We have seen the Pettersson line roast opposition for years now, and the defensive pairing of Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek has looked best in class. When you can send that five-man unit out for 30 per cent of the minutes in every game, you’re going to create a lot of scoring chances and score heaps of goals.

As a multi-year Canucks apologist, this season’s breakout is a sight for sore eyes. And while I’m skeptical they can continue scoring at such a remarkable rate, I do think this is a very capable team that should not be discounted merely because they have had some puck luck – we are still talking a team that’s outchanced their opponents (just under 51 per cent expected goals) over the course of the full season.

Couple that with premium goaltending, and you have a bona fide playoff contender every season.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference