BY THOMAS DRANCE
Vancouver’s goaltending has helped the club overcome woeful special teams so far.
Through twelve games this season, the Vancouver Canucks have posted an impressive 8-2-2 record and a solid +10 goal differential despite relatively weak special teams and injuries to two of their top-six forwards in David Booth and Ryan Kesler. They’ve managed this feat thanks to a correlation of factors, however, mostly the club can thank their All-Universe goalie tandem of Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo for their lofty perch atop the moribund Northwest Division (Vancouver Canucks to Win Northwest Division -333).
At even strength so far this season, the Canucks have enjoyed the luxury of playing in front of what is, by far, the best goaltending in the league in the early going. Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo have combined for a .958 even-strength save percentage in the team’s first twelve games which is .008 percent better than what second place Ottawa has received from Craig Anderson and Brian Bishop. The force-field that Schneider and Luongo have in effect erected in Vancouver’s net has allowed the Canucks to outscore their opponents by eleven goals at even-strength through twelve contests. That’s despite the fact that the Canucks are basically allowing as many shots against as they’re directing on the opposition’s net.
Here’s some funny stats that help contextualize just how ridiculous Luongo and Schneider have been this season: Vancouver has allowed the fewest even-strength goals in the league so far this season with ten five-on-five goals against through twelve games. The next closest team has allowed fourteen. If you exclude the opening night debacle against the Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks have only allowed seven even-strength goals against in their last eleven contests. That makes it look like the Canucks are far and away the best defensive team in the NHL, but realistically, they’ve been out-chanced pretty handily in most of their contests.
We can graft narratives onto what we’re seeing inbetween the pipes for the Canucks if we choose. Certainly the internal competition between Schneider and Luongo is bringing out the best in them so far, and yeah it’s possible that Luongo’s offseason technical adjustments and his seven-months of practice sessions with Francois Allaire during the long offseason have allowed him to be better than ever in his seven appearances this season. But really, what we’re witnessing is an unsustainable run of good fortune and as good as both Schneider and Luongo are, it won’t last.
What’s odd about that good fortune, is that it hasn’t translated to special teams where both Luongo and Schneider are posting sub-.840 save percentages when the Canucks are short-handed. Generally, one would expect those numbers to regress, though admittedly, Vancouver’s penalty-kill has been pretty awful through twelve games. It’s a sieve, to be honest. The Canucks’ permissive penalty kill is allowing shots against at a higher rate than all but six NHL clubs in the early going. Perhaps when Ryan Kesler returns the penalty-kill will find its legs and ultimately I don’t expect the opposition to continue to shoot at a 16% clip against Vancouver’s penalty-killers over the balance of a 48 game season. But this is an issue Mike Gillis will have to look to address before the deadline if the penalty kill can’t sort itself out before then.