Ahead of tonight’s Saddledome matchup between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, separating the Flames from a Pacific Division playoff spot are the Los Angeles Kings and the Canucks (we’ll ignore the Central Division’s wildcard Coyotes and Blues for this intent of this article). While the Canucks head into Saturday night action two points up on the Kings, they’ve played four more games than L.A. and have only two more points in the standings table; the Canucks hold a points percentage of .646 compared to the Kings’ .725. With the Vegas Golden Knights holding onto the top spot with 34 points and a .708 points percentage, Vancouver should be viewed as the in-division target to chase as the post-American Thanksiving playoff pursuit picks up.
The Flames have managed to claw their way back to .500 status and not only do they hope to break the official barrier of mediocrity for the first time this season with a win against Nikita Zadorov and the Canucks, they also have an opportunity to steal two potential points from Vancouver. A win tonight would put the Flames only six points back of their British Columbia rivals with a game in hand.
Since Vancouver’s hot start, I’ve beaten the drum that the Canucks are over-performing and will come back down to Earth. Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and J.T. Miller are not all going to finish within the NHL’s top ten in scoring and Brock Boeser is not going to win the Rocket. However, that might be a little too obvious, so let’s take a look at whether or not the Canucks are fraudulent or for real by digging a little deeper.
The Vancouver Canucks have the most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the Pacific Division
According to Tankathon, the Canucks have the most challenging schedule among all teams in the division, which also suggests that they’ve had the easiest schedule this far into the 2023-24 season. Despite having a relatively easy schedule, the Canucks have still managed to lose to teams that would not currently qualify for the playoffs, including the Flames, Sharks, Kraken (twice), and Flyers.
The Vancouver Canucks goals percentage far exceeds their expected goals percentage, suggesting unsustainable scoring compared to opponents
It’s common for teams’ expected goals and legitimate goals not to line up. As someone who doesn’t accept advanced analytics data as gospel and a believer in the fact that hockey games are played for a reason, I try not to base opinions solely on metrics like these.
However, in the case of the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks, the discrepancy is extremely glaring. In the goals percentage category, the Canucks sit at second in the league with 60.13 percent, behind only the Kings. However, when it comes to expected goals, the Canucks drop all the way down to the middle tier of the NHL, sitting in 12th with 52.2 percent. What this data suggests is that Vancouver will not continue to outscore their opponents by the same margin based on the scoring opportunities they’ve actually been producing.
For the sake of comparison, the Canucks’ goals/expected goals differential is 7.93 percent. The Kings, with the best goals percentage in the NHL, have a differential of almost three percentage points less: 5.09 percent (62.2 percent in the goals category and 57.01 in the expected category). The Flames’ differential is -1.26 percent (47.55 and 48.81 percent).
Goals and expected goals percentage data provided by MoneyPuck.
The Canucks only have two wins against top-12 teams in the NHL
The Canucks have only managed to win twice against teams currently within the top 12 teams in the NHL based on points percentage. Those victories came on the 21st of October in a 5-3 win over the Panthers and on the 4th of November in a 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars. They’ve lost to Vegas, Colorado, Toronto, and the New York Rangers, and as I alluded to earlier, haven’t played that many top teams.
The Flames, however, have beaten Vancouver, Dallas twice, and Vegas, totalling four wins against top-12 teams.
I’m not saying the Flames are better, but that the Vancouver Canucks – based on available data – are frauds
Perhaps the turnovers and penalties sure to be provided by recently acquired Nikita Zadorov will be the difference-maker that catapults Vancouver into territory deserving of their current points percentage, but based on available data, the Vancouver Canucks are due for regression and will be in the thick of a multi-team fight for a playoff spot down the stretch.