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Power play goals are eluding Brock Boeser this season

Last season, Brock Boeser almost single-handedly saved the Canucks power play. It took 18 games for the Canucks to put Boeser on the first power play unit, but when they did so against the Los Angeles Kings, it sparked an immediate response.
Brock Boeser sets up in front of the Los Angeles Kings net for the Vancouver Canucks.

Last season, Brock Boeser almost single-handedly saved the Canucks power play.

It took 18 games for the Canucks to put Boeser on the first power play unit, but when they did so against the Los Angeles Kings, it sparked an immediate response. Heading into that game, the Canucks were 10-for-71 on the power play, succeeding on just 14.1% of their opportunities with the man advantage.

The worst power play percentage in the NHL last season was 14.8%; the Canucks were worse than that through 18 games.

Despite that slow start, the Canucks’ power play finished in the top ten, scoring on 21.4% of their opportunities. It was largely thanks to Boeser, who finished the season tied for the most power play goals and points on the Canucks even though he missed 20 games. His 10 power play goals and 23 power play points in 62 games, tied or set a franchise record for Canucks rookies.

This season, however, Boeser hasn’t been able to find the same scoring touch on the power play.

At 5-on-5, Boeser’s production is about the same as last season, particularly when it comes to goals. Boeser averaged 1.26 goals per 60 minutes as a rookie; this season he’s averaging 1.20 goals per 60 minutes. Essentially, Boeser looks like the same player at even-strength as he was last season, at least statistically.

The power play, to a certain extent, is a different story.

Let’s be clear right off the hop: this isn’t a story about how something has gone terribly wrong with Brock Boeser. There’s no doom and gloom here. Power play production can be capricious, subject to the right combination of teammates, circumstances, and luck.

For Boeser, the puck just hasn’t been going in the net on the power play. He has just three goals with the man advantage this season, which would put him on pace for five power play goals over the 62 games he played last year. In other words, he’s scoring power play goals at half the rate he did in his rookie season.

It’s easy to come up with reasons for the drop in production. We could hypothesize that penalty kills are playing him a little tighter in his second season. Perhaps his early season injury took a toll on his shot. Maybe the loss of the Sedins has hurt him on the power play more than expected.

It’s even possible that the addition of Elias Pettersson as a primary shooting option on the power play has taken a chunk out of Boeser’s scoring. Alternatively, the absence of Pettersson at times has hurt Boeser, as the Canucks don’t have a playmaker to be the quarterback on the power play in his absence.

Some of those theories could be tested to a certain degree. If the issue is that Pettersson is the focal point of the Canucks’ power play, Boeser would likely be getting fewer shot attempts. If penalty kills were cheating towards Boeser and closing down his shooting lanes more effectively, we’d likely see more of his shots get blocked or miss the net.

Let’s take a closer look at Boeser’s statistics on the power play. The below stats are all taken from hockey analytics site Corsica, and they are individual stats instead of on-ice stats. In other words, these are shot attempts taken by Boeser himself, not by the team as a whole.

Brock Boeser at 5-on-4
via 2017-18 2018-19
Shot Attempts/60 34.02 35.30
Blocked Shots/60 9.82 9.19
Missed Shots/60 5.97 6.97
Shots on Goal/60 18.23 19.04
Expected Goals/60 1.65 1.70
Goals/60 2.81 1.39
Assists/60 4.21 2.32
Points/60 7.01 3.72
Shooting % 15.38 7.32

Looking at his scoring rate by ice time, it remains true that Boeser is putting up goals and points at about half the rate he did last season. He averaged 2.81 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 last season and 7.01 points per 60 minutes. This season, he’s down to 1.39 goals and 3.72 points per 60 minutes.

As soon as we look beyond the results, however, his current season looks remarkably similar to last season.

In fact, Boeser is averaging slightly more shot attempts, with fewer of them blocked, though he is missing the net once more per 60 minutes. That’s not all that significant, however: he’s still averaging slightly more shots on goal this season than last season.

Those shots are coming from similarly dangerous areas of the ice, to boot, with Corsica’s expected goals metric measuring Boeser slightly ahead of last season at 1.70 expected goals per 60 minutes.

Boeser out-performed his expected goals last season with elite finishing ability. This isn’t unusual: the same is true for other snipers like Patrik Laine, Steven Stamkos, or Alex Ovechkin.

This season, for instance, Laine’s individual expected goals at 5-on-4 is 5.10, which means the average NHL player would be expected to score around five goals given the same opportunities. Laine’s elite finish, however, has given him twice that many goals at 5-on-4 with a shooting percentage of 19.23.

Last season, Boeser’s shooting percentage at 5-on-4 was 15.38%, which is good, but also a little odd. That’s actually exactly the same as his shooting percentage at 5-on-5. That is, to say the least, quite unusual. You would expect his shooting percentage to be better on the power play.

In any case, the biggest issue for Boeser on the power play this season has been his shooting percentage. It doesn’t appear to be because he’s shooting less or penalty kills are blocking his shots. Instead, he’s scoring goals at half the rate as last season because his shooting percentage is half of what it was last season.

At 5-on-5, Boeser’s shooting percentage this season is a lofty 17.24%; it’s just on the power play that his shooting percentage has been cut in half.

There are several potential explanations for that. Perhaps he has a nagging injury that is affecting his shot, though that wouldn’t explain his 5-on-5 scoring. It could be that, without the Sedins, Boeser is getting fewer open nets on backdoor plays. Or maybe it’s just some bad luck.

Whatever the cause, the Canucks have to hope Boeser finds his scoring touch on the power play again in short order. They regularly get out-scored at 5-on-5; they need the power play to be a difference-maker.