Toby Ward: The Disturbing, Dark Lining
Great that the Canucks are winning; but disturbing is the execution.
While the points are beginning to add-up, and the Canucks are getting the necessary wins to lead the Northwest division (again), the manner of execution leaves one wondering if the offense and defense are not overly relying on our hot goalie tandem.
For starters, shots on goal: Vancouver has been outshot in every single game, except the two games versus the Ducks. While they’ve managed to reduce the total shots on goal in the past two games, the Canucks sit 15th in the league in allowing shots on net. God bless, Lu and Schneids for bailing the defense out. But this is a trend that could sink the team if this leak is not plugged.
However, it’s not solely the defense that deserves the blame. A good defense starts with a good offense, and a team that once was the dominant puck possession team in the NHL is now average, at best. In fact, notwithstanding the Sedin line, the team is falling flat. Of course, possession begins in the faceoff circle and a look at our success on the red dots reveals the most disturbing team statistic of all: the Canucks are pathetic on faceoffs thus far, ranked 28th in the league on (only lowly Columbus and Buffalo are worse). Once the league leaders in faceoffs, the Canucks are flirting with the worst faceoff win percentage in the NHL.
Our top three centers are below 50% in the faceoff circle; only Manny Malhotra is above, but actually shows an impressive 64.5% success rate. However, rarely does coach Vigneault put out Malhotra for key offensive zone faceoffs, instead he usually opts for Henrik, Schroeder or Burrows. Manny rarely takes a faceoff outside of his fourth line duty. We have the guy for the job, but the coach leaves him on the bench most of the time.
Bringing us to yet another dark lining: special teams. The Canucks used to rule NHL special teams, now they suck – bad. Team penalty killing is dreadful, ranked 19th in the league. Two years ago they led the NHL in penalty killing, now they’re down with Florida, Colorado and Washington (shudder). The power play is ranked a woeful 17th in the league at a lousy 17% success rate. Pathetic, given its dominance on the power play the past three years.
Finally, it’s the manner by which the Canucks continue to play down to the competition; Vancouver appears often to do only as little as it takes. As evidence, note that the Canucks have played eight games – and half of them have gone to shootouts. This is a very dangerous trend, one that must be stopped soon, or the Canucks will not be able to win the division, and a playoff spot could be in jeopardy.
There are however, a few silver linings. Although the point production is not there yet, young Jordan Schroeder is a joy to watch. A fast, determined skater with soft hands, he has a laser for a pass – one with pinpoint accuracy. During one breakout Jordan air mail expressed a saucer pass some 110 feet to the breaking out winger (I believe it was Higgins) on the very far side of the rink just outside the opposition blue line, and it was done with speed while acceleration. I openly applauded that jaw-dropping pass that the vast majority of NHLers could not make most of the time, including Henrik.
Of course, there’s the restored form and determination of Luongo, who is third in the NHL in GAA and save percentage; absolutely brilliant. But for how much longer will we have Luongo?
Kassian is a very pleasant surprise; it’s shocking how soft his hands are (like those of a peak career Bertuzzi in his West Coast Express days). Although the Sedins have probably made him look a lot better than he’s getting credit for, he is producing, and at well above a rate than should be expected.
Of course help is on the way with Kesler and Booth who may both return to the ice before the end of February, but those are only two injuries, and it would be very unlikely that the team doesn’t suffer other injuries before the end of the month, let alone the trade deadline (April 3).
There’s reason to be happy that the Canucks have only lost two games outright in their first eight; but some insidiously dark linings should temper any fans’ enthusiasm.
Toby Ward is a season ticket holder, former reporter and producer covering the Canucks turned consultant, and blogger. A lifelong Canucks fan who bleeds blue and green, Toby first saw the Canucks when they hosted Bobby Orr and the Bruins in 1974.