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Canucks have matched up well against the top teams in the NHL

Elias Pettersson has scored at a higher rate against top-ten teams in the NHL this season than he has against bottom-ten teams.
Elias Pettersson takes a knee during Vancouver Canucks warm-up in the black skate jersey.

When the Boston Bruins shut out the Vancouver Canucks last week, fans had to hope it was an anomaly. There was good reason to think so: after all, it was just the second time all season the Canucks have been held without a goal.

The real concern was the performance of the Canucks’ star players, who had one of their worst showings of the season. That kind of performance can lead to questions: sure, the Canucks have two players tied for fifth in the NHL in points, the league’s leading scorer among defencemen, and two top-ten goalscorers, but can they perform against the best teams in the NHL?

Much of the concern is aimed at Elias Pettersson, largely because his contract is up at the end of this season and he could become one of the most highly-paid players in the NHL. It’s understandable that fans might be worried whether a player about to make $10-13 million per year can perform when the pressure is on and carry a team deep into the playoffs.

Sure, the one time Pettersson was in the playoffs he put up 7 goals and 18 points in 17 games to lead the team in scoring but that was four years ago and the NHL is very much a “what have you done for me lately” league.

So, what has Pettersson done for the Canucks lately, as well as the rest of the Canucks? How have they performed against the top teams in the NHL and should that be a concern as they head down the stretch into the playoffs?

The short answer is no, it shouldn’t be a concern. 

The Canucks are 9-3-2 against the top ten teams in the NHL by points percentage, including clean sweeps of their two-game sets against tough Eastern opponents in the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. They’ve out-scored those opponents 51-to-38.

To be fair, that includes the beatdowns the Canucks gave the Edmonton Oilers early in the season before Connor McDavid and co. got their act together, but even excluding those games leaves the Canucks with a winning record and positive goal differential against the top teams in the league.

As for individual performances, Pettersson leads the way against the top-ten teams in the NHL, averaging 1.43 points per game. In fact, Pettersson has scored at a higher rate against the top-ten teams in the NHL than he has against the bottom-ten teams. That holds true even when removing the games against the Oilers from the equation.


The Canuck who has feasted the most against lesser competition is actually J.T. Miller, who has scored at about the same rate against bottom-ten teams as Pettersson has scored against top-ten teams. Miller has scored 26 points in 18 games against bottom-ten opponents, including nine points against the San Jose Sharks alone.

That’s not an indictment on Miller — star players probably should score a lot more against weaker teams — and Miller has still put up points against top-ten opponents. He’s over a point-per-game against top teams and just shy of a point-per-game when you exclude the Oilers, same as for Brock Boeser.

Really, what should be clear is how much the Canucks are not feasting on bottom teams. For the most part, the individual Canucks are scoring at about the same rate or even lower as they do against everyone else. 

The one player who experiences the most precipitous drop in points against top-ten opponents — as long as you exclude the Oilers — is Quinn Hughes. Even then, 0.55 points per game is still solid production for a defenceman. Heck, a couple of decades ago, 0.55 points per game over a full season would have flirted with the top-ten in scoring among defencemen. It's simply that much harder for a defenceman to pick up points against tough opponents.

In any case, Hughes only drops down that much by arbitrarily excluding the Oilers. 

A few other Canucks who have scored at a higher rate against top-ten teams than bottom-ten teams include Filip Hronek, Nils Höglander, and Carson Soucy.

Elias Lindholm is also intriguing. His numbers without his games against the Oilers are actually better, as his Calgary Flames played the Oilers a little bit later in the season when they were a bit stingier defensively. But Lindholm has also scored at a higher rate against top-ten teams overall than against bottom-ten teams.

Of course, one of those top-ten teams he’s performed so well against is the Canucks themselves. He has three goals and five points in his two games against the Canucks this season but unfortunately won’t be able to pile up any more points against that particular match-up, barring any own goals. 

Lindholm also put up points against the other top-ten team the Canucks haven’t faced this season: the Winnipeg Jets. In his one game against the Jets, Lindholm had a three-point night.