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THE MOJ: Immensely improved Canuck PK built on structure and trust

No more running around as what was once a weakness is now a strength
“We’re playing a lot better positionally and within our structure. Whether it’s that we just needed time to get used to it or get used to each other’s tendencies but we are putting ourselves in a much better position and not giving the power play ‘A’ chances,” - Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers on why the penalty kill unit has been playing of well as of late. Vancouver Canucks photo

It’s a story that has flown under the radar for the Vancouver Canucks.

While fans and media alike take note of the team’s overall play or the offensive exploits of Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser or Elias Pettersson, the team’s penalty kill unit has quietly been on a serious heater.

Despite giving up a first-period power play goal to the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night at Rogers Arena, the special teams unit came up big in the second period and allowed the Canucks to get back into the game which they would eventually lose 4-3 in overtime.

With the Blues enjoying a 2-0 lead early in the second, Vancouver’s Andrei Kuzmenko drew a four-minute minor for high-sticking St. Louis’ Sammy Blais. The Canucks, however, killed off the penalty and avoided being down 3-0.

“That was huge. They score there…who knows? 3-0? I felt after we killed that off, I saw a lot of juice on the bench. That’s why I thought we got back in the game. A lot of guys were excited after we killed those four minutes,” Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet noted afterwards.

In reality, the penalty kill unit has been ‘huge’ for the Canucks over the course of the last 20 games. During that time, they have killed 52 of 59 opposing power plays for an amazing 88.1% efficiency rate, which is actually better than the league-leading rate (87.5%) the L.A. Kings have over the season.

And when you look at where this unit was a year ago, it’s even more amazing.

When Bruce Boudreau was relieved from his duties as head coach of the Canucks on January 22nd, 2023 the penalty kill was running at a 67.2% clip. To give you an idea of how bad that really is, the worst penalty kill rate in NHL history belongs to the 1979-80 Kings, who finished at 68.2%.

So what’s happened?

“We are running around a lot less,” responded defenseman Tyler Myers when asked about the difference between this year and last. “I think at the start of the year we were still trying to figure each other out as a PK unit. We were running around a bit too much and we opened up some plays for the other team. I think now we are doing a good job of when to be patient and when to pressure. Those reads have got better as the season has gone on and we just need to keep going with it because it’s working for us.”

An argument can be made that the improved performance can be attributed to better personnel but Tocchet is quick to note that assistant coach Mike Yeo has made a significant impact with the unit.

“I think Mike Yeo has done a great job with the structure part in teaching them the principles of it. I think we are getting good groupings with Teddy (Blueger) and Dakota (Joshua). Then you have (Nils) Aman and Suts (Pius Sutter), Petey and Mikheyev when we need them and Millsy has been getting some big draws. I think it’s just a lot of confidence. Now we just have to work on our clears. If we get better with our clears, we are really going to take off even more. That’s probably the one thing where we are a little bit on the average side,” said Tocchet.

“He (Yeo) shows us clips every day of what we did well or what we didn’t do well as a team and then we get into what they (the opposition) like to run. By the time we get out there, we know what’s coming for the most part. There’s not a lot of curveballs that they can throw at us,” said Joshua.

The Canucks will adhere to their structure which includes focusing on taking away passing lanes with good positioning and stick placement. They will also try to take away the most dangerous option and try to channel everything to the outside.

“It makes a lot easier for the goalies when they know where the shot is coming from and taking away the back doors have been a big key,” explained Joshua.

As mentioned, Yeo and the unit will meet for video work in an effort to scout opposition tendencies but in the end, no one is re-inventing the wheel when it comes to power play schemes according to Joshua.

“I think everyone is comfortable with the diamond that we run. There are only so many power play sets that you can run, so I feel that we have a good read on what sets teams are coming in with,” said Joshua.

“It’s simple. At some point, the other team is going to two-on-one someone and taking away the best option is the best thing you can do in those situations. Reading when to pressure and when not pressure is such a big part of it. We are also doing a good job of not over-extending ourselves and opening things up,” said Myers.

And as Suter is quick to point out, you have to make the opposition earn their opportunities.

“You want to make them make three or four good plays to get a chance – not just one pass and they have a grade ‘A’. That’s the key to any system – try to make them beat you with a couple of plays in a row. You’re not giving them any easy chances,” said Suter.

Another big key for the success is trust, whether it’s trusting the scheme or your teammates.

“The comfortability and trust with one another – knowing when to pressure and when to stay within the system - goes a long a way,” explained Joshua.

“We’re playing a lot better positionally and within our structure. Whether it’s that we just needed time to get used to it or get used to each other’s tendencies but we are putting ourselves in a much better position and not giving the power play ‘A’ chances,” added Myers.


* When it comes to the NFL Conference championship games, it’s pretty clear who has the most invested in the Canucks dressing room – Joshua and Ian Cole. Joshua grew up in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn while Cole was raised in Ann Arbor, which is 45 minutes away from Motown. “It’s nice to see them (Detroit) go on this run here. It’s funny because everyone wants to hop on the Lions bandwagon now but only the real fans know what it was like before this year,” said Joshua, who attended some Lions games as a kid.

* While Cole is more than happy to accept anyone onto the bandwagon, Joshua is a little more guarded. While Quinn Hughes is apparently on board with the Lions claiming his ties with the University of Michigan as the main reason, Joshua isn’t willing to accept him as a legitimate Lions fan just yet. “C’mon, he grew up in Toronto,” chuckled Joshua.

* As for the NFL, this agent took a bit of a hit last week going 1-3 ATS after a 5-1 start. Now at 6-4 ATS, we still have a winning record heading into the conference championships. In the NFC, the 49ers don’t appear to be as powerful as most people think and giving up seven to the Lions is too much. Take the Lions. As for as the AFC title game goes, the Ravens should win and cover the four. The Chiefs had the luxury of going up against a beat-up Bills defense. No such luck this time as the Ravens unit is healthy…and good.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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