Vancouver Canucks 4 at New Jersey Devils 5 (OT) – 2023-02-07 recap

What struck me in this game was just how well the Canucks played.

…with some caveats.

In my big piece at The Athletic yesterday, one area I mentioned as something the Canucks need to fix is their play off the rush. They don’t generate nearly as many shots as their opponents within six seconds of a controlled entry, and regular readers of this blog and subscribers may have noticed that.

That wasn’t a problem for the Canucks against New Jersey: despite the fact that the Devils were fantastic at breaking the puck out with control and limiting the opportunities for the Canucks to attack in transition, the Canucks went from their zone, to the neutral zone, to the Devils zone, to a scoring chance 10 times.

New Jersey skated a lot better than the Canucks did, and that will flesh out in the data below. But the Canucks were very efficient on their rush opportunities, generating 0.40 scoring chances per controlled entry, their 4th-highest rate on the season, with 83% of those scoring chances coming within the first six seconds of an entry.

So, what do we learn going forward? Have the Canucks unlocked an ability to create scoring chances and goals off the rush? Probably not. Despite the 0.40 chances per entry, they generated just 0.73 shots per entry, which was actually below their season average. It’s just that they got better opportunities with the few rushes they did have, while also allowing their opposition to skate and transition very fast out of their zone.

And, yes, the Canucks did out-chance the Devils in this game, with the Canucks largely holding the Jack Hughes line to just two scoring chances at 5v5. But both teams had lots of near chances, and shots that were disrupted in the slot and around the net. It’s tough for me to say the Vancouver was the better team, but they did some good things, and it’s a matter of seeing whether those good things can carry over going forward. They set up good shots and took them, and it’s a matter of figuring out what part of that is repeatable and what isn’t.

Onto the new (and returning players)… Anthony Beauvillier was very involved in the play but didn’t create many good things. He did have some excellent defensive plays breaking up clear Devils’ scoring chances. Vasili Podkolzin led the Canucks in 5v5 scoring chance contributions and nearly sacrificed his body to get into the new coach’s good graces. Nils Aman was Nils Aman and didn’t really do all that much.

This did feel like the first game back after a long break, for both teams. It was a bit sloppy, free-flowing, and for the first time in a while, it didn’t look like most of the Canucks hated hockey, and it would have been really easy to coast through the remainder of the game after giving up those three goals in 50 seconds to go down 4-1 midway through the second period, but the game turned from there, and the Canucks out-chanced the Devils 8-2 after the second Hughes goal, and the Devils hit the “off” switch, playing a lot slower and more methodical in an effort to hold the lead.

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