Down by one to the Winnipeg Jets with six minutes remaining and on the power play, Elias Pettersson leaned into one of his patented one-timers from the top of the right faceoff circle. The puck rocketed off his stick but instead of the welcoming bulge of mesh, the puck met rock-hard iron with a cold “ping.”
According to play-by-play announcer John Shorthouse on the Sportsnet broadcast, it was his ninth post or crossbar of the season, though the NHL’s stats listed it as his eighth. Either way, it’s far more than anyone else in the NHL.
Two players are tied for second — Leon Draisaitl and Rickard Rakell — with four posts or crossbars, half as many as Pettersson.
Eight posts and crossbars is underselling it
If it feels like Pettersson has hit iron more than eight times this season, you’re right. For instance, last Wednesday in the second period against the Calgary Flames, Pettersson got a chance off the rush from a great pass by Quinn Hughes. The sound of Pettersson’s quick snap shot hitting the post rang through the empty arena, but it didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Instead, because Jacob Markstrom got a piece of Pettersson’s shot, it was recorded as a shot on goal instead of a post. That’s true for a couple of Pettersson’s other posts or crossbars — if the puck nicked the goaltender’s shoulder before going off the crossbar, it’s considered a shot on goal and a save instead.
With all the posts and crossbars Pettersson’s hit this season, it’s amazing he still has 7 goals in 22 games, it’s not surprising he’s off his usual goal-scoring pace from previous seasons.
Heading into this season, Pettersson scored at a pretty consistent pace, averaging a goal every 2.5 games. This season, he’s averaging a goal every 3.1 games. Over an ordinary 82-game season, Pettersson would be on-pace for 26 goals — a fine pace for a top-six forward, but it would be the lowest goal total of his young career.
A record-setting pace
Pettersson has certainly been known for hitting posts and crossbars over the past two seasons — when he misses the net, he just barely misses — but this season has been ridiculous.
Last season, Pettersson hit a total of 13 posts and crossbars over the course of 68 games. He’s hitting posts and crossbars at nearly twice the rate this season. If half of his posts and crossbars had instead gone in the net, Pettersson would be on-pace for 41 goals in a normal 82-game season.
Consider it this way: the most posts and crossbars hit by one player in the last decade was in the 2010-11 season, when Steven Stamkos hit 17 total. He hit iron an average of 0.21 times per game.
Pettersson is averaging 0.36 posts or crossbars per game.
The NHL has only kept track of posts and crossbars since the 2009-10 season. As far as we know, Stamkos’s 17 posts and crossbars is the most in NHL history. Did someone hit more than 17 posts and crossbars in the decades prior to 2009? Quite possibly, but we don’t know about it.
Pettersson is currently on-pace for 20 posts and crossbars in 56 games, meaning he could actually break Stamkos’s record, even in a pandemic-shortened season.
In other words, Pettersson has been extraordinarily unlucky this season. He arguably should be among the league leaders in goalscoring, right up there with Brock Boeser, Connor McDavid, and — ahem — Tyler Toffoli.
The pursuit of perfection
There is an alternate explanation. Pettersson has always aimed for perfection and perhaps his pursuit of the perfect shot has backfired. When it comes to a shot, an inch from great is still in the net — an inch from perfection is the cold, hard metal of the goalpost.
Consider Pettersson’s goal he later scored on the power play against the Jets after drilling the post earlier in the period. The shot itself was much the same, if taken from a spot slightly closer to the net. The shot didn’t go just under the bar — it was under the bar by a few inches. It wasn’t a perfect bardown shot, but it was a goal.
It’s certainly more likely that Pettersson has just been unlucky than that he’s aiming to put the puck a millimetre inside the post and is just barely missing. Then again, there were chances like the one he had against the Ottawa Senators a few weeks ago where he had all sorts of time to pick his spot and put the puck off the junction where the post meets the crossbar.
That certainly looks like a player aiming for perfection and just missing.
No, it’s far more likely that Pettersson has had a string of bad luck this season. It’s also unlikely to continue: at some point, those posts and crossbars are likely to become goals or clear misses. The Canucks will have to hope for the former — they’re going to need all the goals they can get.