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Wild vs Canucks: Measuring The Impact Of Special Teams

The overarching narrative going into this best-of-five series was if the Minnesota Wild could control the Canucks top-six and their potent powerplay. The Wild are the better defensive team and have a deeper team but lack the talent in comparison to the Vancouver Canucks. It was clear that the success of both clubs’ special teams was going to be a factor in determining a winner in this series.

The powerplay is a huge facet in hockey, having a dangerous powerplay like the Canucks will more than likely lead to success. A powerplay can shift momentum in a best-of-five series. Entering the series, it was a concern whether the Canucks powerplay could be the difference-maker and dramatically shift the series in their favor.

Looking at the data, there is a correlation between having strong special teams—specifically the powerplay— and success. Over the past three seasons, there have only been a handful of teams to have a top-10 powerplay and miss the playoffs.

Thus far, the Canucks have one powerplay goal on eight chances. The lone powerplay goal came in game 2 as they tied the series at one game apiece. The Canucks ranked 4th in the NHL this season on the man advantage. The original game plan for the Wild to stay out of the box has not worked in the first two games. However, the Canucks have not been able to create quality chances on the powerplay so far in this series.

So while the Wild did have a pair of powerplay goals, this article will specifically cover the Wild’s penalty kill and the Canucks powerplay. With that being said, the question needs to be asked, is the Canucks’ powerplay a game-changer in this series? Let’s dive in so we can successfully defend a certain conclusion.

The Canucks Powerplay

The Canucks had one of the most deadly powerplays this season in the NHL courtesy of the likes of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, and Bo Horvat. Their man-advantage ranked 4th league-wide.

The Canucks potent powerplay is not a result of a large number of shots near the blue paint. They are not a team that you will see drive the net and put away rebounds as supported by having fewer shots than average from in front of the net. This is a team that desires to primarily shoot from the high-slot and near the top of the right faceoff circle.

Despite having the fourth highest powerplay percentage, their powerplay is slightly worse than league average according to their expected goals. When analyzing their shot quantity and shot location, it is easy to correlate their formidable powerplay to shot quality. The Canucks ranked second in the NHL in shooting percentage on the man advantage.

The Wild’s Penalty Kill

After covering the Canucks powerplay, how does that match up against the Wild penalty kill? Looking at the shot map, the Wild’s defense is better than league average, but not by much. Analyzing the facets of it can give you a grand scheme of the overall effectiveness.

The Wild are a very puzzling team on the penalty kill as they give up more shots than league average in varied spots. The Wild’s weakness can be pinpointed to the right circle where the big orange blob is and from the point, specifically the center of the ice in that regard. This is due to the Wild being a very tight and stay-at-home team with a defensive mentality. For the majority, they don’t give up shots in front of the net and at the left circle. According to Evolving Hockey, the Wild are the 4th best team in the NHL regarding expected-goals-against-per-60 while shorthanded.

All in all, the Wild are a good defensive team while shorthanded, they focus on quality rather than quantity. They may give up a large volume of shots but the lesser quality results in still being a better than average shorthanded team. A narrative that has been around a long time is that your goalie is your best penalty killer, while true, it is not for the Wild. They have the seventh-worst save percentage while shorthanded league-wide despite the lack of quality shots produced by the opposition. So, in order to improve their penalty kill, their goalie needs to be able to make a save.

Do Special Teams Actually Make a Difference?

Now after effectively analyzing the Canucks powerplay and Wild penalty kill, I think it is fair to conclude that the Canucks’ powerplay will not have a huge impact or dramatically shift the series. The two games are a good reflection of that. As long as the Wild’s defense is not hung out to dry by poor goaltending, I think these two clubs’ special teams match very well against each other. Neither team has been dominant five-on-five, once a team figures out how to effectively find a hole in the oppositions even strength game, it will likely go from there. As the series goes the distance, even-strength scoring will be paramount and neither the veteran-equipped Wild nor the high-flying Canucks can depend on special teams.

(Shot Maps Via HockeyViz, Image Via NHL.com)

Follow me on Twitter @aaron_heckmann for more of my content!

Aaron Heckmann
I am an aspiring sports writer and love the Minnesota Wild.
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