November 16 2009 01:53PM
The Vancouver Canucks have played through one quarter of their season so far. While there have been some nice surprises, there have been more unpleasant ones. Their season can be summed thus far as: Full of injuries, lacklustre team defence and some noticeable absences from the scoresheet.
For me, the biggest reason for the Canucks lack of overall success so far originates at the blueline.
It's hard to call the Canucks season so far "disappointing". The team has lost over 100 man-games to injury so far, including their top goal scorer and their top goalie. However, a simple breakdown of their wins and losses shows some break startling contrasts.
Their overall statistics are average. Nothing abruptly concerning, but nothing exciting either. They rank #13 in both goals-for and goals-against. They are #12 is total points. While their powerplay is running well at 7th place, their penalty kill is struggling, putting them at #23. Again, nothing dramatic. All in all, middle of the road. If you take into account the fact that they have missed their leading scorer for most this season and leading goaltender for 7 games, you have to tip the scales slightly to the positive side of things.
When the Canucks win, they are terrific. When they win, Vancouver is scoring close to 4 goals per game (3.91) and allowing just over 1 goal per game (1.27). There were two games that skewed those stats heavily, so let's take them out. If we take out the blowout wins against Montreal and Colorado, the Canucks are still scoring over 3 goals per game (3.11) in their wins and even less goals against (1.22). Those stats alone would put them in the top 7 for goals-for and #1 in goals-against (by a considerable margin, too!)
When the Canucks lose, they are dreadful. Flat-out terrible. In their losses, the Canucks have scored less than 2 goals per game (1.91) and have surrendered well over 4 goals per game (4.3). The Canucks have let in 5 goals or more in 6 of their 10 losses. In their losses, their goals-for and goals-against would rank them dead last in the NHL in both categories.
They are quite literally a Jeckyll and Hyde team. When they win, they dominate. When they lose, they look like the AHL team that has comprised most of their roster.
So what have been the hits and misses so far for the Canucks? Here are my top-3 lists for both.
#1 - Ryan Kesler. He has quite simply been the best Canuck player through the first 21 games. He has dominated games. He is producing at close to a point-per-game. He is over 50% in the faceoffs and averages over 19 minutes per game of ice-time. Without Kesler, the Canucks would be NHL cellar-dwellers.
#2 - Andrew Raycroft. He was exceptional in relief of Roberto Luongo, posting a 4-2 record, with a 2.18 GAA and a .916 Sv%. And those numbers are skewed negatively because of his last blowout start to Anaheim. Before that one game, his GAA was 1.66 and a Sv% above .920
#3 - Henrik Sedin. Everyone expected Hank's game to slip in the absence of his injured brother, but quite the opposite has happened. He has 23 points through 21 games, is over %50 in the faceoff dot, and averages over 19 minutes of ice time. Even more shocking is that he has more goals that assists right now (12G, 11A). When brother Daniel returns, which is expected to happen in the next 3-4 games, Henrik's may elevate even further.
Honourable mentions here go to:
Christian Ehrhoff - easily the Canucks best defenceman so far.
Ryan Johnson - continues to be the Canucks hardest working forward when killing penalties.
Jannik Hansen - despite only playing two games so far, he's showing signs that he is ready to take the leap to the next level of his game play. The next quarter of the season will show us what Hansen is made of.
And what about those three misses?
#1 - Overall team defence. It's been brutal. In their losses, most of the fault can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the entire blueline. The one exception has been Christian Ehrhoff - every other defenceman has been terrible.
... 1a - Alex Edler. He is a team-worst minus-5, has no goals, and has produced some strikingly bad plays coming out of his own zone. At times, Edler looks like he is completely confused and lost on the ice. At his current rate, Edler is on pace to end the season at minus-29.
... 1b - Kevin Bieksa. He is second in the NHL in total PIMs (61 PIM), has only 1 goal and is at minus-1. Here is an interesting statistic my friend Bruce passed my way. To quote Bruce - "Bieksa is on pace to spend over 4 hours, that's more than 4 complete games, or over 5% of the season, in the penalty box. He will 'earn' approximately $200,000 will penalized.
... 1c - Mathieu Schneider. Touted as the Canucks powerplay saviour, he has been mostly a detriment to the Canucks blueline so far. Through 8 games played, he has 4 points and is a dismal minus-4. The supposed powerplay quarterback has only one goal on the man-advantage and that came in the final blowout victory over the Avalance.
#2 - Kyle Wellwood. To paraphrase Tony Gallagher, he has been a hologram on the ice this season. 17 games played and he has a single point. Simply unacceptable.
#3 - Steve Bernier. Through 19 games played, Bernier is tied for a team-worst minus-5 and has only 10 points. Before the win against the Avalanche, Bernier was a minus-7 and had only 8 points. Dreadful play from a guy who is supposed to contribute more.
The Canucks should see an improvement in their record in the second quarter of the season, based on two main factors. They will have Daniel Sedin back very soon, and 13 of their next 20 games are at home. In order to ramp up to their team-record roadtrip in the New Year, then Canucks have to push hard in these next 20 games to get to the top of their division. Otherwise, February and March could make for a rough time on the ice.