May 24th, 2024

Powerful penalty kill a big part of playoff success for Vancouver Canucks

By Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press on April 27, 2024.

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Casey DeSmith (29) blocks a shot on goal by Nashville Predators center Ryan O'Reilly (90) during the third period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Friday, April 26, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The Canucks won 2-1. TH CANADIAN PRESS/AP-George Walker IV

NASHVILLE – Killing penalties hasn’t always been a strength for the Vancouver Canucks.

The team’s penalty kill struggled through much of 2022-23 and threatened to be the worst in NHL history. After rebounding slightly late in the regular season, Vancouver still finished with a league-worst 71.6 per cent success rate.

Now the special teams unit has become a strength for the Canucks, particularly in the first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators which the Canucks lead 2-1 heading into Sunday’s Game 4.

“It’s just such a big part of the playoffs, killing penalties,” said Canucks defenceman Carson Soucy. “You never want to put yourself down on the kill, but at the same time, it can be a big mood boost, for this team especially.

“It just brings a whole lot of confidence to the group, whether it’s a blocked shot that gets the bench up, whether it’s a big save or even just a couple good clears. “

Vancouver’s penalty kill operated at 92.3 per cent over the first three post-season games and has weathered 12 straight infractions without conceding a goal.

“I think the PK all year has been a resilient group. We’ve had some stretches where we’ve had a bad run with a bunch of 5-on-3s and it looks bad, but I think overall, it’s been pretty good,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet.

Vancouver killed five penalties Friday en route to a 2-1 win over the host Predators and a lead in the series.

Playoff veteran Ryan O’Reilly scored Nashville’s only power-play goal so far in Game 1 on the Predators’ first man-advantage in the series.

Solid clears and blocked shots have helped Vancouver get through penalties successfully during the playoffs, Tocchet said.

Veteran defenceman Ian Cole was credited with five blocked shots Friday, including one that pinged off his helmet as he sprawled across the crease.

That was nothing new to Tocchet, who was an assistant coach when Cole and the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

“One in the head, one in the shoulder, one in the collarbone,” Tocchet said. “I’ve seen (Cole) do that when we won the Stanley Cup. That’s why we went and got him, for games like that. That’s a lot of courage, of blocking those shots. I mean, those are point-blankers.”

Vancouver’s penalty kill personnel have remained the same for much of the season, and that’s created a bond through the unit, Soucy said.

“It’s just consistency from the whole year,” said the blue liner. “We’re just so confident now in where we’re supposed to be because we’ve been doing it for 80-plus games now.

“Confidence and trust in each other, trust in the forwards, trust in the (defence), that they’re going to be in their spots, I think that’s just showing that we’ve put in the work all year to be consistent and stick to what we know can be successful. We’ve seen it.”

Nashville’s penalty kill that was perfect after two games of the series surrendered two goals on three penalties Friday to fall to 77.8 per cent in the playoffs.

“We did a pretty good job on the kill so far,” said Preds centre Mark Jankowski. “Last game wasn’t our best. We let a couple in there. We know what we did wrong, we know how to fix some things and we’ll be ready for next game.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2024.

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