Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Canucks don't want to be setting records for fewest shots in the playoffs

"If they block shots, then they block shots," said Quinn Hughes, demanding his Canucks get more pucks toward the Predators' net in Game 5.
Quinn Hughes wants the Vancouver Canucks to send more pucks at the Nashville Predators' net.

The Vancouver Canucks have shockingly few shots for a team that is up 3-1 in a Stanley Cup Playoff series.

The Canucks have just 72 shots on goal — an average of 18 per game — which is an NHL record for the fewest shots through four games in the opening round. That’s not typically a recipe for success but the Canucks have managed to win three of those four games against the Nashville Predators, all with different goaltenders in net, to boot.

In Game 3, the Canucks set a franchise record for the fewest shots in a Stanley Cup Playoff game with 12. They, of course, won that game.

Sunday night’s Game 4 was just the latest example of the Canucks pulling a win out of nowhere despite barely getting any shots. With three minutes left in regulation, the Canucks had just 17 shots on goal — they scored three goals on their next four shots to come from behind and win the game in overtime.

"We were one-and-done a lot."

Winning despite record lows in shots is an unlikely recipe for success and one that the Canucks are looking to change.

“You’re not always going to come back like that,” said Quinn Hughes after Tuesday’s morning skate. “I think we probably need to play a little bit better and hopefully we can do that at home…As far as creating and having those shifts where we control the game, we didn’t really have that.”

There have been two primary obstacles to the Canucks getting more shots: one is that the Predators are throwing bodies into shooting lanes in an attempt to block every shot; the other is that the Canucks are too often losing puck battles to win the puck back after a shot attempt.

The latter is a particular bone of contention for J.T. Miller, who lamented the team’s lack of secondary opportunities after Game 3 and said it was again a major issue after Game 4.

“Last game, we were one-and-done a lot,” said Miller. “We’ve got to get back to the way we were playing earlier on in the series, in the sense of elongating shifts. We can’t throw as many pucks away, even in the O-zone — they’re not really turnovers but we’re losing our opportunity to play more offence.”

The Canucks’ shots in Game 4 were spread out throughout the game, with the team rarely, if ever, getting more than one shot per shift. Until the late comeback, they rarely came up with rebounds. 

"We have to have an attitude."

Miller suggested the team needs to be smarter with how they forecheck to win the puck back in order to hem the Predators into their own zone.

“They’re not really using any of their energy in the D-zone right now,” said Miller. “They know that if they can withstand the one chance, they’ve been getting out the last two games. We need to have longer shifts in there and, obviously, it starts with a good forecheck.”

A smarter forecheck starts with one thing, according to head coach Rick Tocchet: body position.

“Players hear me all year, it’s body position first,” said Tocchet, diagnosing his team’s struggles in battles as “We’re going for the puck first.”

“Tonight, you’ve got to go into the body, then the puck,” he added. “These are the types of games where I really need players to listen. We have to have an attitude. Because Nashville, they’re not gonna change. They’re going to come at us and if we don’t come up with loose pucks, it doesn’t matter what system you have.”

Tocchet also suggested that keeping the puck more in the offensive zone would help out their defence and, in particular, keep Quinn Hughes from suffering so much physical punishment from the Predators’ forecheck.

“When you’re one and done, teams get it and then they’re on the go and whether they rim it in or chip it in, then all of a sudden your defence are under heat,” said Miller. “If we can be better — even 50% — at having more pucks, maybe getting in front [of forecheckers] the odd time without taking a penalty, and then moving the puck quicker instead of massaging it, I think right there is a recipe where they’re not going to be on us as much. I think those are three things we can get better at.”

"They're usually leaving a guy or two behind them."

Winning puck battles to extend shifts in the offensive zone will certainly help the Canucks get more shots, but they’ll still need to deal with the Predators’ shot blockers, who have kept dozens of pucks from even reaching goaltender Juuse Saros.

But the Predators’ predilection for blocking shots also opens up opportunities on which the Canucks should be able to capitalize. 

“They’re fronting shots, so they’re usually leaving a guy or two behind them,” said Hughes.

Fronting shots means a defender literally steps in front of their check to block a shot rather than battling their check to either move them from the front of the net or tie up their stick. The Canucks took advantage of that when they had the extra skater at 6-on-5 at the end of Game 4. 

On Boeser’s second goal, which kicked off the comeback, Alexandre Carrier stepped away from Elias Lindholm to front Miller’s shot, leaving Lindholm open behind him. That allowed Lindholm him to step to the side for a down-low pass, so he could set up Boeser at the backdoor. Similarly, on Boeser’s hat trick goal, Roman Josi jumped out to block Miller’s shot and the Canucks had three players behind him — Boeser, Conor Garland, and Nikita Zadorov — to jump on the rebound.

The trick is to find a way to similarly take advantage of the Predators’ fronting shots at 5-on-5 without the extra attacker.

Tocchet, who loves to have layers of traffic in front of the net, suggested the key to getting past their shot blocking is to have one player as the “anchor” in front of the net screening the goaltender but then to have a second player — what he calls the “second stick” — finding an area to open up for a pass or deflection.

“Whether it’s to the [near] side or to the far side, you’ve got to shoot for that second stick,” said Tocchet. “You’ve got to be careful, because if you start telling them that, then they’ll leak away from the net when the other guy leaks. One guy has to be the anchor.”

In other words, both players can’t open up to the side for a pass or deflection: one player has to stay at the front of the net.

"Sometimes you've got to take the shot."

It’s not just that the Predators are blocking shots either — their constant presence in the shooting lanes has made the Canucks reluctant to shoot in the first place and instead pass out of dangerous scoring areas.

“You know what, sometimes you’ve got to take the shot," said Tocchet. "If you’ve got 15 feet of separation and a guy wants to block it, it’s got to hurt. You can’t defer and alter your shot. But I think the ‘second stick’ helps. I think those 6-on-5 goals help us — Boes being at the side there, that was big.”

The Canucks seem intent on getting more pucks to the net in Game 5, with Hughes taking a philosophical approach to the Predators getting in shooting lanes.

“If they block shots, then they block shots,” said Hughes, tautologically. “That’s paying the price and good on them. The more shots we get there, there’s going to be chances that it does go in or something else happens.”

Between firing away even when the Predators are in shooting lanes, winning more puck battles to extend shifts, and shooting for the “second stick” to take advantage of the Predators’ fronting shots, the Canucks believe they have the right plan in place to get more shots on net to force Saros to make more saves.

Considering Saros has an .859 save percentage in this series, that should be a recipe for the Canucks to win Game 5.