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The Canucks may be struggling, but there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic

At the quarter mark, the Canucks are better than their November losing streak would suggest.
Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes chase down the puck in the Canucks 2019 preseason.

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When you’re following a sports team, it’s easy to get caught up in the game-to-game results, riding a rollercoaster of emotion through an entire season. A win fills you with elation and optimism; a loss, crushing disappointment.

This doesn’t just apply to fans. When Canucks head coach Travis Green was asked to assess the Canucks’ season after a loss to the Dallas Stars last week, he had to catch himself before he spoke.

“I think you’re catching me on a night when we lose a hockey game,” he said. “If you asked me after the Nashville game, I’d probably be a little more optimistic.”

The Canucks are on a losing skid. The Nashville game Green referenced is the Canucks' only win in their last eight games. But instead of looking at that chunk of games, let’s look at the season as a whole. The Canucks just passed the quarter mark of the 2019-20 season, which is a good time to take a step back and look at the big picture.

The team’s hot start in October put them in a strong position, to the point that even with their struggles in November, they’re still hanging around the top three of the Pacific Division. Heading into Thursday's game against the Nashville Predators, the Canucks are one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for third in the Pacific with a 10-8-4 record and a plus-5 goal differential.

Beyond the results of wins and losses, however, there are some positive signs in the Canucks’ underlying statistics. For instance, the Canucks are third in the NHL in score-adjusted corsi percentage. Some might ask, what is corsi and why does it matter?

Corsi is a measure of shot attempts for and against at 5-on-5. A percentage above 50% indicates that a team is out-shooting their opposition, which is a useful proxy for puck possession: if you’re taking more shot attempts than the other team, then you have the puck more than they do.

The reason corsi matters is that it is more useful for predicting future wins and losses than a team’s current record or even their current goal differential. That means the Canucks’ 53.32% corsi, behind only the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens, suggests the team should out-score their opponents over the rest of the season and, accordingly, win more than they lose.

Canucks 2019-20 Underlying Statistics
Venue and score adjusted via
Statistic Score NHL Rank
Corsi For Percentage 53.32% 3rd
Shots For Percentage 52.48% 6th
Expected Goals For Percentage 53.39% 5th
Goals For Percentage 50.11% 16th

We can also look at another advanced statistic, expected goals, which adds a measure of shot quality to the basic corsi statistic. The Canucks are fifth in the NHL in expected goals percentage, meaning they’re not just out-shooting their opposition but out-chancing them as well. The Canucks are creating more grade-A scoring chances than their opponents.

To go with the Canucks’ strong numbers at 5-on-5, their special teams have been among the league’s best. The power play is ninth in the NHL, scoring on 23.3% of their opportunities, while they also have an above-average penalty kill, if just barely. At 82.9%, the Canucks are 13th in the league.

A lot of the Canucks’ success comes from the performance of their stars. Elias Pettersson is tied for 11th in NHL scoring with 25 points in 22 games. His linemates, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller, are not far behind, at 21 and 20 points, respectively. Star rookie Quinn Hughes is second in scoring among rookie defencemen, with 14 points in 21 games, behind only Cale Makar.

Defensively, the Canucks are in the top 10 for fewest shots against, largely thanks to their revamped defence corps that has been more effective at transitioning the puck up ice so the team spends less time in the defensive zone.

Finally, there’s the goaltending, which has been solid all season and even spectacular at times, even if it's faltered in recent games. The average save percentage this season is .908: Thatcher Demko has been well-above average at .916, while Jacob Markstrom's November struggles have seen him drop to .906. The same thing happened last season, however, and Markstrom rebounded in the subsequent months to be the team's MVP.

Overall, there are some positive signs even in the midst of their November slump.

Big Numbers

26 - With both Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle out of the lineup, Bo Horvat had a whopping 26 faceoff wins on November 16th against the Colorado Avalanche. According to the Canucks, that’s two short of the Canucks’ record of 28 faceoff wins by Mark Messier. The NHL record? 33 wins, held by none other than current Canucks head coach Travis Green.

18 - Canucks prospect Petrus Palmu is currently second in the Finnish Liiga in points per game. His 7 goals and 18 points in 13 games suggests it’s far too early to dismiss the 22-year-old winger as a potential NHLer.

Stick-taps and Glove-drops

A tap of the stick to the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2019, who were inducted on Monday. The six inductees: Canadian hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser, NHL stars Guy Carbonneau and Sergei Zubov, trailblazing Soviet defector Vaclav Nedomansky, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, and all-time great NCAA coach Jerry York.

I’m dropping the gloves with Garnet Hathaway of the Washington Capitals, who crossed a pretty big line on Monday when, during an altercation with Erik Gudbranson of the Anaheim Ducks, spat on the former Canuck. Brad Marchand likely would have recommended he lick him instead.