After getting held pointless against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, Elias Pettersson has fallen below a point-per-game for the first time since December 1st. He hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just two points in his last seven games.
That’s not ideal, particularly when so much of the Canucks’ offence has depended on Pettersson all season. Perhaps it’s unfair to place so much of the team’s fortunes on the shoulders of a rookie that just turned 20 a few months ago, but Pettersson’s play produced those expectations and, for most of the season, he’s lived up to them.
It could just be a matter of the rigours of a long NHL season catching up to Pettersson, but it’s not like this is an unprecedented number of games for him. Between the SHL regular season, playoffs, Champion’s League, and international games with Team Sweden, Pettersson played 87 games last season.
Alternatively, perhaps teams have adapted to Pettersson and learned how to shut him down more effectively. With few other scoring threats on the Canucks, opposing teams can key in on Pettersson and they are a lot more familiar with his tendencies than they might have been earlier in the season.
Another possibility is that this is just what rookies go through. Even the best players in the NHL go through slumps, especially as rookies. It was foolhardy to think that Pettersson was the exception and wouldn’t prove himself to be human.
What stands out about Pettersson’s slump is not just that he’s not scoring goals; he’s also not getting shots. Of course, there tends to be a cause and effect relationship between the two, but some slumps are just a result of bad luck: a player creating chances, but getting robbed by goaltenders, hitting the post, or sending his shots just wide.
That doesn’t appear to be the case for Pettersson, who still has the second-highest shooting percentage in the league despite his slump, mainly because he’s just not shooting the puck.
Pettersson has just six shots on goal in his last eight games. In four of those games, he didn’t register a single shot.
This isn’t a matter of his shots missing the net or getting blocked, either. His shot attempts mirror his shots on goal this season, which is as you might expect. Pettersson had just one shot attempt against the Vegas Golden Knights last Saturday and just two against the Rangers on Wednesday.
Pettersson hit similar lulls in his shot rate earlier this season, notably in late November. From November 21st to November 29th, Pettersson had just three shots in five games and had pretty low shot totals in the games surrounding that stretch as well.
With that in mind, there’s plenty of hope that Pettersson can break out of this slump in the final dozen games of the season. And, obviously, a small slump in his rookie year isn’t a big deal long-term.
As for how he intends to get out the slump, Pettersson has a plan: get selfish.
“Maybe I need to be more selfish to score more goals,” Pettersson told the media after Friday’s game day skate, “but I’m always looking to pass and set up my teammates. I haven’t scored in a few games, which bothers me, so maybe I’ll be more selfish tonight.”
Pettersson is a playmaker as well as a goalscorer, so it’s understandable that he looks to set up his teammates first. Perhaps his teammates have something to do with his lack of shots and goals.
Here are the seven forwards with whom Pettersson has played at least 40 minutes at 5-on-5, along with Pettersson’s rate statistics while with them. All data is from Natural Stat Trick.
There are some small sample size issues here — goals and points can be particularly deceitful in that regard — so lets focus on the shots and shot attempts, which are the largest sample statistic here.
Pettersson’s highest shot rate comes in the minutes he’s played with Bo Horvat. Those minutes usually come when the Canucks are trailing and head coach Travis Green loads up a line of Horvat and Pettersson with Brock Boeser. While it’s a small sample, Pettersson has certainly come through on those occasions.
Playing Pettersson with Horvat isn’t a long-term solution, however, as the Canucks need the two centres on separate lines. What’s intriguing is who shows up second-highest on the list: Loui Eriksson.
Eriksson played with Pettersson earlier in the season and saw some success, but then slid down the lineup when he himself didn’t produce. Might it be worth trying him alongside Pettersson again?
Maybe. This chart is all about Pettersson’s performance as an individual and doesn’t touch on the performance of the team as a whole when Pettersson is on the ice with them. While Josh Leivo shows up at the bottom of this list — Pettersson doesn’t get a lot of shots while on the ice with him — the Canucks have had very strong possession numbers with Leivo and Pettersson together.
Nikolay Goldobin also shows up further down the list, but while Pettersson didn’t get a ton of shots while on the ice with him, that’s when the Canucks had some of their best offensive success as a whole. When Goldobin and Pettersson have been on the ice together at 5-on-5, the Canucks have out-scored their opponents 20-8, easily the best goal differential among Pettersson linemates.
You also have to consider the timeframes within which Pettersson played with each linemate: was it during a hot streak or during a slump? Did said linemate contribute to the hot streak or was he a passenger along for the ride? Similarly, is Pettersson slumping because he’s playing with Leivo, or do other factors matter more?
If Pettersson gets a little more selfish and takes a few more shots when he has the chance, perhaps who he plays with will matter a lot less.