Toby Ward: Sub-par Canucks are a below average team

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The Canucks surrendered the Northwest Division league Sunday evening to the Minnesota Wild. The good news? There is still time to turn things around. The bad news: the Canucks are a below average team.

Disagree? A closer look at the numbers will change your mind:

  • Goals for: 17th (2.7)
  • Goals against: 20th (2.52)
  • Shots for: 18th (28.7)
  • Shots against: 21st (28.0
  • Power play: 20th (15.7%)
  • Penalty kill: 18th (80.7%)

The average ranking of the above six key categories: 19th (out of 30). Sub-par.

What is the reason behind the Canucks’ sub-par season? There is no one answer, but a combination of factors: injuries, questionable refereeing (if not biased), some unfortunate luck, and poor coaching.

Firstly, we miss Kesler and Bieksa – they noticeably improve the Canucks. Secondly, you need only look at the Calgary game and the bench minor assessed to Vigneault to understand the impact a ref can have on a game. Thirdly, in games the Canucks were clearly the better team and should have won, but managed to find a way to lose (Columbus, San Jose and Dallas).

Finally, coaching: look no further than special teams and the shots differential, and you get the drift. Additional clues: favourite pets getting preferential treatment: Lapierre (nearly 16 minutes last game) over Schroeder (9 minutes); Alberts over Ballard (arguably our best defensemen after the quarter-season mark, and then was benched after one bad game. If Edler was benched after each bad game, he’d be out of the line-up half the time); Raymond at center (it was bad enough that a prototypical winger, one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, was moved to center, but his dismal faceoff record completely undermines his misplacement – a disastrous 1 for 9 his first game, a pathetic 1 for 6 the next game. How did Vigneault respond? Raymond was back at center in Columbus.

Unfortunately, A.V., the team needs to come before egos.  And your team, unless you make changes, is sub-par.

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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.


 

Toby Ward: HanShrayRay tame the Wild

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Jannik HansenJordan SchroederMason Raymond, what a line, what speed, what pluck!

HanShrayRay (for lack of a better, more officious nickname, that’s not as sexy as West Coast Express but…) added hustle, speed, and the game winning goal.

“They played with skill, speed and grit,” said Coach Alain Vigneault during the post-game press conference in praising the plucky, emerging Hansen-Schroeder-Raymond line. “They were tough to handle.”

Not tough for Canucks fans, who loudly cheered the 1st star selection of Hansen, who led all players with 5 shots on net. Hansen now has 7 points (3 goals) in 12 games, and is tied for a team high +7, but it’s the immeasurable contributions he brings – his speed, forechecking, and bluster. If there was a Canuck who fit the Honey Badger metaphor, it’s Hansen.

Hansen’s opposite winger, Raymond chipped in with two shots, and the key play to set-up Keith Ballard who dished to Hansen for the game-winning goal (and has a surprising 8 points to start the season). And Schroeder, the speedy, diminutive center with the hustle to match Hansen, and a passing ability that could rival any player on the team, also impressed, and was key to helping Raymond dig the puck out of the corner which led to the game winner.

HanShrayRay – I think most Canuck fans would like to see a lot more of them.

Goalie

What controversy? Look up the definition of controversy in the dictionary, there’s nothing controversial about Vancouver’s goalie tandem. In fact, Roberto Luongo, the defacto back-up goalie, is second amongst NHL goalies, with a superlative save percentage of 94.3 (.943), and a goals against average (GAA) of 1.45.

Interesting to look south at Florida, Luongo’s preferred destination (his home, his wife’s home), and note that Florida gave up six goals on 29 shots last night. The Panthers had the single worst GAA in the NHL heading into the game, and have safely secured the bottom-of-the-barrel position for the foreseeable future after giving up six against the lowly Capitals.

Looks like Florida could use a superlative goalie…  and I think Jose Theodore would be a superlative back-up to Corey Schneider. Mind you, I’d rather see Luongo and Schneider remain as a tandem, and share the workload on the way to a Cup parade.

NOTES: Speaking of goalies, a very decent first NHL game for Darcy Kuemper, 28 of 30 saves, and the evening’s third star… Devon Setogouchi made a big league, power forward move and shot to score the lone Wild goal (impressive, but Minnesota could use more of that from him)… Andrew Ebbett was dancing, and dishing last night in his limited 9 minutes (he deserves more starts, because AaronVolpatti and Dale Weise have earned very little)… Manny Malhotra missed the game due to “family reasons” and Vigneault and the Canucks declined to comment on the matter, but when asked Vigneault didn’t sound particularly impressed. I have a feeling we may be witnessing the final months of Manny’s career, though he still is a valued faceoff man.


 

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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.


 

Toby Ward: The Disturbing, Dark Lining

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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.


 

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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.


 

Opening night! Schroeder impresses, Ebbett stays, Edler Cashes In

Alex Edler battles in front of Roberto Luongo

Schroeder impresses, Ebbett stays, Edler cashes in.

Jordan Schroeder did impress at Canucks training camp, but Andrew Ebbett bested him. That and the threat that the Canucks would be forced to waive, and perhaps lose Ebbett, were they to return him to the Chicago Wolves, secured Ebbett the starting number two center job for the Canucks on opening night versus the Anaheim Ducks.

In fact, Ebbett was one of the stronger performers on Wednesday night scoring the game-tying goal, plus a marker during a post scrimmage shoot out competition during the first night scrimmage. Schroeder also had a significant game during the second scrimmage on Thursday recording two assists on two of Mason Raymond’s three goals. Alas, given Ebbett’s precarious position vis a vis waivers, Schroeder became the obvious man out.

Far from precarious, is the Canucks top offensive d-man, Alex Edler, who more than secured his future with the team by signing the biggest contract by a defensemen in Vancouver Canucks history worth $30 million over five years. No small reward for the 26-year-old who tied for sixth in scoring with the great Shea Weber for points by an NHL defensemen.

In total, the Canucks will begin the season with 12 forwards and 9 defensemen (with Jim Vandermeer being a utility defensemen who can also play the wing), and two starting goalies (none of which have been traded as of yet). Though coach Vigneault will undoubtedly tinker further with the team before and throughout tomorrow’s game (in fact, look for the second and third lines to have constant interchangeable parts), the tentative starting lineup is as follows:

Line 1 D. Sedin H. Sedin A. Burrows
Line 2 M. Raymond A. Ebbett Z. Kassian
Line 3 C. Higgins A. Laperriere J. Hansen
Line 4 A. Volpatti M. Malhotra D. Weise

D Pair 1 A. Edler K. Bieksa
D Pair 2 J. Garrison D. Hamhius
D Pair 3 K. Ballard C. Tanev

Goalie: C. Schneider

Bench: C. Tanev, J. Vandermeer, A. Alberts, Some guy named Luongo

Other notes:
• Junior D-man Frank Corrado has been sent back to OHL Kitchener Rangers; Kevin Connauton was sent to the Chicago Wolves
• D-men Jim Vandermeer and Cam Barker will stick with the team
• Forwards Aaron Volpatti and Dale Weiss will round out the fourth line.

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Toby Ward: The destruction of the second line.

CanucksCorner.com is pleased to welcome Toby Ward to our team. Toby is a  former reporter and producer who covered the Canucks and has since turned consultant, blogger, and season ticket holder. A lifelong Canucks fan who bleeds blue and green, Toby first saw the Canucks when they hosted Bobby Orr and the Bruins in 1974.

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The Canucks have been without a consistent, stable second line since Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs versus Nashville during the 2011 playoff run – a round that saw the emergence of Ryan Kesler as a potential super stud. Unfortunately, Kesler was injured in the next round versus San Jose, and Mason Raymond famously joined him on the DL in the Finals versus Boston. Since then, the second line has rarely been stable and has constantly been shuffling players in and out.

Nearly two years later, the second line has once again migrated to the infirmary.

The good news: Raymond, who has never been the same since his horrific injury in those same 2011 Finals, and may now get a chance to slowly find his game on the third line (provoking a massive sigh of relief from all those Raymond haters who’ve demanded his trade for most of the past year). The bad news: the Canucks have no second line.

Kesler is a month or two away from making a return; Booth joins him on the infirm list for a minimum of six weeks, if not more, with what appears to be a too-much-training injury of his groin; and Raymond cannot play by himself, and probably would benefit from a reduced roll while he finds a productive hockey stick. In fact, the third line may now likely become the second line by default, even though it still lacks a definitive center.

At this moment, it would appear that young Jordan Schroeder may be given every opportunity to earn the opportunity to win that second line center spot; leaving the third line center spot for Lapierre, or possibly Hansen who can play center, but likely will have a shot on the wing on the second line (Chris Higgins can also play center, but almost certainly will move to the wing on the second line).

If Schroeder fails to impress, one wonders if Jason Arnott might not be considered again, or the spritely local boy and fan favourite, Brendan Morrison (both are still looking for a team). Let’s hope that GM Mike Gillis resists the urge to bring in an aging European winger – a la Marco Sturm, or Peter Sykora (who’s also without a job).

The problem with extended injuries in a shortened 48-game season is that the Canucks can ill afford a slow start – especially since every single game is versus a conference rival who may be competing with the Canucks for conference positioning, or dare I say it, a final playoff position.

The impetus and pressure on Gillis to pull the trigger on a Luongo trade just intensified, but may already be under serious, specific consideration. There are signs that Gillis may already have a trade package ready to go: the signing of veteran defensemen Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer bring the total number of defensemen with significant NHL experience to nine (not including Frank Corrado and Connauton) – far more defensemen than is necessary on a defense roster that is one of, if not the strongest in the NHL. It would be highly unusual for the team to keep more than seven with the club past Friday).

With Alex Edler out of contract at season end, and the Canucks already pushing the limits of the current salary cap, Elder may in fact be used a trade bait if Connauton or Corrado look like they are ready to make the jump. Although, a move of Ballard and/or Tanev may be more likely.

Regardless, the current injury crisis and destruction of the second line is likely to incite Gillis to make a move – perhaps a mega blockbuster trade – before the start of the season on Saturday.

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