The loss to the Ottawa Senators was a tough one to swallow. Especially since after 17 previous tries, the Vancouver Canucks finally scored on the Power Play. So far the Canucks are 1-2-1 on this road trip with Toronto waiting in the wings on Saturday. However, as a fan base, we are all on the edge of our seats with every stumble on the ice. In Columbus, the Canucks had 15 minutes of power play time, with no goals to show for it. One of them was even for five full minutes! What is happening and what is wrong with the Canucks? I don’t know for sure, but we can have a look to see what could help.
The Power Play
Up until Edler’s very late power play goal versus Ottawa in the 3-2 loss, the Canucks have been 0 for 17 since their last recorded PPG. This was just after going 6 straight games with power play goals making the score sheet. Until the Canucks start punishing teams with their PP, the opposition will continue to take liberties with members of team since they can’t score on the PP anyway. So what could help?
- Take Alex Edler off the 1st unit as the guy who can QB the power play. He’s not. Stop forcing the issue. The signs haven’t been there, ever. As much as Weber hasn’t had a great showing in with the extra man (no one else has been great lately either), I’d much rather have Weber back there throwing his heavy shot towards the net over Edler. Yannick is no Jeff Brown or Jovanovski back there, but there was chemistry that could be rekindled with the Sedins, Vrbata and Burrows. I just don’t see any of that happening with Edler.
- Edler with Hutton on the 2nd unit could work. They are there to support each other on the back-end. With the younger guys up on forward for that unit, it would be good to have a 2-man blue to keep the pucks in the zone.
- As simple as winning face-offs in the offensive zone. Win the face-off, control the play. Easy.
- Shoot! Great puck movement is wonderful to watch, but putting pucks to the net and using the law of averages will probably create better scoring chances and potential goals. Shooting from the peripheral gives the defending team an easier time to kill their penalty.
The Penalty Kill
This aspect of special teams play has usually been a very good part of the Canucks’ game. However on this road trip so far, it’s been atrocious. Ottawa had two PPGs in the last game.
Lack of Physical Play
With two of the more physical players on Injured Reserved, the Canucks cannot expect Jake Virtanen and Brandon Sutter to make all the big hits. The absence of Luca Sbisa has really made the blue line soft. Hamhuis not hip-checking like his used to, Edler having troubles at times just staying on his skates and Tanev not really known as a big hitter but a good positional player, Sbisa’s ‘edge’ is missed. Weber lacks the size to be physical, I haven’t seen much from Bartkowski and Hutton is better with the puck than the others.
Prust being out hasn’t been good for the team either. Sure he’s a 4th line guy, but his presence and leadership shows. With only Dorsett to defend other teammates, Prust’s injury has really affected the physical part of the fore-check. There is much lacking. Virtanen has shown he can drill guys with a good hard check, and Hansen has been more effective with the puck than he has without lately, that other guy who can keep the other team in check isn’t there and isn’t keeping the dirty stick work at bay.
Ryan Miller has been the Canucks’ best player so far this season. He’s a big part of the reason why the Canucks have a winning record opposed to one looking more like the Flames. Until recently, he’s been excellent. However, with only resting for two games, it’s starting to take its toll on him. The bad defensive play in front of him has not helped out his numbers. With Jakob Markstrom back, Miller will get the much needed rest between starts he will need and gives the Canucks a capable backup who has already shown he’s ready for the NHL. The least of the concerns for the Canucks is in the blue ice.
We could even bring it down to some bad luck. It was rearing its ugly head in the Ottawa game for sure, but we’ve seen it earlier in this road trip as well. The bounces aren’t coming. However, having some lucky bounces on the ice usually coincides with some good play. The Canucks have to play 60 minutes, play a strong 200 foot game and play smart hockey.
I don’t believe they will generally be this bad consistently, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. It’s one thing for the Canucks to plod through a tough time, but it’s another to wallow in it. I do see some good things even though they aren’t playing their best hockey at the moment.
- Sven Baertschi has looked better as of late. Still needs to work along the boards better, he’s making his way to the net and has been rewarded with two goals.
- Jakob Markstrom is back and looked marvelous in his 1st start of the season. This will no doubt be a wonderful relief to everyone, especially Ryan Miller. He doesn’t have to play so many games now and they can make quite the tandem as the season goes on.
- Jake Virtanen has played good physical hockey so far. He’s also showing he can play a good game if he is given some time.
- Ben Hutton has been the nicest surprise of them all. He has the makings of a very good puck moving defenceman one day. His calm demeanor on the blue line has been refreshing to see, and especially from a rookie.
It’s just about getting the team to click all at once. It can happen at any time. I believe that. It’s tough to believe it presently but I can see it happening. There is still a lot of season to play and a few more road trips to win. I’m concerned, but I’m not panicked. Patience, my fellow Canucks fans, patience.
The Canucks look alright, if you look at their record. They are second in the Pacific Division, attained seven out of 10 possible points and have a 3-1-1 record. It’s only 5 games but it’s enough to give us a sense of where a few questions that need to brought to attention about Willie Desjardins’ nightly lineup. Willie doesn’t have the rookie coach excuse this year, he’s a sophomore now, there is no need for weird line juggles that don’t make sense. Willie needs to start utilizing his talent properly.
WTF #3 Vrbata-Horvat-Baertschi
When the “Lindenning” signed Radim Vrbata last year, the idea was to put him with the twins. Have a first line guy who loves to shoot and can work with the Sedin cycle game. Bring him onto the 2nd line with some idea to get that line going. Not a problem if that line is Vrbata -Horvat- Baertschi. A line that was throwing more shots on net than any other line but just weren’t going in. That’s when the law of averages takes over and eventually something is going go in with the amount of shots that line is producing.
So the game against the Blues, Sven sits, but Dorsett is the guy who takes his place? Derek Dorsett? A 4th line energy guy? Sure Sven hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been bad either. The fact that he, Vrbata and Bo were producing so many shots is a sign of good things to come. Willie showing a tinge of impatience with some of his young guys who just need a little more time (Sven) . At the same time giving a message to a first line player in Vrbata that he’s not worthy of playing with the Sedins. That’s inexcusable, and frankly just dumb of Willie to not have a thought process. Either put Burrows back with the twins, or Vrbata but never bring up Dorsett or Hansen in these situations, you’re asking them to play way too much out of their elements.
WTF #2 Alex Burrows’ Role
When a guys is making $4+million on your team, has been a 1st line winger with arguably the two best play makers in the last 8 years, why doesn’t he have a permanent home on a permanent line? Willie needs to either play Burrows with the twins or give him some time with Sutter and Virtanen on the other wing. Sutter doesn’t belong with the Sedins, it should be either Burrows or Vrbata or maybe Virtanen. As stated above, I like Vrbata-Horvat-Baertschi together. So putting Burrows on a viable third line isn’t such a bad ask, but he works well with the twins, knows their rhythm, their cycle and can no look drop pass with them like was a triplet. Why punish the guy who could keep the twins consistent throughout the season? Willie again puzzles me with his lack of vision for putting together two top lines. He better figure it out soon or some players will just stop caring where they are in the lineup.
WTF #1 The Power Play Without Yannick Weber
The PP has now gone 1 for 17. For some reason, Willie Desjardins won’t put the guy who has shown that he can put pucks to net in special teams situations. Yannick Weber has played a total of one game since the beginning of the regular season. Putting Alex Edler on the first PP unit instead of Weber who has shown results in the recent past to be a good guy to have on the point with the Sedins.
If Willie wants to continue to be stubborn and leave Edler on the first unit, than put Weber on the 2nd unit PP because Chris Tanev’s shot scares no one. Not you, not me, not big bad NHL penalty killers either. I am not sure when Willie will put Weber back into the line up, but 1 for 17 should be more than enough ‘encouragement’ for a change on special teams PP units. Don’t you think?
These have been a few things bugging many Canucks fans over the first five games. It would be “real good” if Coach Willie can give us a lineup that makes sense from time to time.