Youth in revolt

Patrick Johnston
January 21 2013 12:09AM

Pick a bigger worry: fitness or depth? Both are question marks coming out of Sunday night's 3-2 OT loss to the resurgent Oil.

Coming off a horrendous 7-3 loss on Saturday night, everyone figured the Canucks would find tonight an emotional bounce-back game. They're too experienced and still too good not to know how to re-find their form; we knew that, but the Ducks debacle elicited doubts in the faithful.

But a strong opening period for the Canucks saw them ahead 1-0 and everyone was probably feeling better. Even with the Oilers buzzing in the second, Zack Kassian's 2-0 goal, a feat of magic, conjured in colaboration with Daniel Sedin, was another soothing pill. Maybe this painful, overlapping preseason/regular season wouldn't be so bad after all.

But then two things happened. The Oilers remembered that Alex Edler really isn't so great on the right side and that most of their young stars are in mid-season form; maybe they could skate the by-comparison-geriatric Canucks off the ice.

A late-second period goal by Jordan Eberle, and a latter-half-of-the-3rd-period goal from Ales Hemsky flipped our understanding of this game's meaning on its head. The next stretch is not going to be about the Canucks perservering in the face of being less-than-game-ready; it's going to be about dodging as many bullets as possible.

That's a lot of hyphenated compound adjectives.

For some game notes and some data, click on past the jump.

- again, not a whole tonne of data to present, we are still waiting on an update for timeonice.com.

This was a far higher-event that Saturday night. Even strength chances were 7-4 Canucks in the first, 9-5 Edmonton in the second, 5-1 Edmonton in the third and 2-1 for Vancouver in OT. Those scoring at home add that up to 19-15 for the Oilers overall. The tilt towards Edmonton beginning in the second began shortly before 5 minutes into the second, when the Oilers went on a run of 7 consecutive chances (including two on the power play). Nearly ten minutes passed between Zack Kassian's fantastic chance off the rush and Chris Tanev's chance when he jumped into the rush.

The Canucks had a powerplay in the third period that generated 4 chances with about ten minutes left. A goal there would likely have sealed it.

- The lack of Ryan Kesler is blunting the consistency of attack. There are still plenty of weapons, but the balance is all off. Also, getting into game shape really is going to be a challenge. The Canucks should have come away from this weekend with three points, they only got one.

- The Canucks' penalty kill was very aggressive in pressuring the puck carrier. The powerplay goal by Hemsky to tie it up was scored off the rush. It was a shot under Luongo's right arm, maybe one he'd like back. There was a lot of chatter about it, but really, if you only concede two goals, your team really should win. Devan Dubnyk can make the same complaint.

- The speed of the Oilers' young forwards was apparent early; they are in mid-season form and it will serve them well in their push for the playoffs. The Canucks, on the other hand are still at the beginning of pre-season in terms of game fitness. This is going to be a challenge first stretch of games for a team that's already down a pair of key players. Nearly every Oilers chance was generated by one of the top two lines; the three chances that weren't came from the trio of Smyth-Horcoff-Belanger

- He's much maligned, but I thought Mason Raymond played a pretty useful game. He only fell down once (by my count anyway) and distributed the puck well to his linemates. He featured on the second power play unit, which accounted for three of the forur chances generated on the third period power play mentioned above.

- The Canucks were very effective at generating traffic in front and getting their sticks on shots from the points. I counted five chances from deliberate tips from forwards in the slot. 

- Alex Edler on the right side is a mess. Jordan Eberle blew past him twice on the outside, including on his goal in the second with just three seconds left. The other time, Edler took a penalty trying to reel the winger back in.

- Andrew Ebbett through two games is pretty much what everyone expected. Merely adequate. He's not embarassed himself defensively at all (how many times have you exclaimed 'what the hell, Ebbett?!') and he's made a couple nice passes; his pass to Kassian in the second should have led to a goal, but the big guy just missed left with a wrister. Jordan Schroeder surely wouldn't have done any worse. Again, when does Ryan Kesler get back?

- Keith Ballard didn't turn himself into anything terrible, even after his atrocious first period turnover to Shawn Horcoff. He and Chris Tanev played just over 16 minutes, while the big four played more than 24 minutes apiece.

- Dale Weise had a breakaway. 

- Moral of the story. Don't freak out. Yet.

*Th e original version of this story credited the Canucks with five chances on their third period powerplay; on further review, I've bumped that down to four.

1f92153409d9b33c123e47094f0ac4b6
Patrick Johnston is a Vancouver journalist. In addition to regular contributions here at Canucks Army, his work has appeared in The Province, Hockey Now and on the CBC. Check out his blog and other writing at http://johnstonwrites.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter: @risingaction
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#1 Panic in Canuckland
January 21 2013, 12:22AM
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The fans are already burning their bandwagons here in Van, lol. As you said, people need to chill out. Small sample sizes people, small sample sizes.

I will say that the Canucks younger players seems to be the only guys playing relatively well tonight. Of course, Tanev spearheaded this effort cause he makes it look so easy out there. I saw him go coast to coast TWICE! Yes people, Chris Tanev went coast to coast. I almost died, but was pretty excited. The other 2 d- pairings are struggling (to say the least), AV needs to either put Tanev with Edler or Hamhuis until they all get up to game speed.

For me, this team needs to get younger. I know it's only 2 games in - but I've been saying this since last season. Young players bring a different energy to the ice and dressing room. They have different attitudes and beliefs and I think this Nucks teams is in need of that. This team has the skill, no ones debating that - but they're missing something - I think it's youth. Whenever Gillis trades a goalie, he better get ONLY youth back. No AV has a good history of developing players (despite what most people think). He needs some good players to develop - and Gillis has done a poor job of drafting. they need youth in a goalie trade.

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#2 Unknown Comic
January 21 2013, 12:37AM
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No mention of Burrows playing centre in the 3rd period?

Vancouver did look to slowly lose steam while playing against a team who had all of it's top 6 in game shape.

The importance of being in game shape was shown by Weise, Kassian and Tanev, the three guys with the most energy in this game.

All in all, it seems to be coming around.

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#4 Jesse
January 21 2013, 02:37AM
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I'd hardly consider Ebbett's play adequate. I think what has been clear, is that he is by no means a fit for that 2nd line center role in any capacity. He just doesn't have the skills to keep up. He's a step slower, his hands are a touch heavier, and his physicality is non-existent. Say what you will about Schroeder's size, but the kid can at least skate and is a lot more willing to be physical than Ebbett.

If there's any reason to AV's plans, Ebbett will be sitting in the press box on Wednesday, Cam Barker will be heading to Chicago, and Jordan Schroeder will get his chance to show what he's worth.

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#5 JCDavies
January 21 2013, 03:23AM
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@Panic in Canuckland

"Gillis has done a poor job of drafting"

Is this really the case? He was only hired two months before the '08 draft and probably shouldn't be given much credit or blame for anything that comes out of that draft. And he hasn't had any high draft picks for the other four drafts he has been here for and later picks usually take longer to develop. I think it is too early to label Gillis a poor talent evaluator. The clock must really be beginning to tick for Rodin, though.

Perhaps, If Gillis doesn't decide to trade for some young players he could try keeping some of the draft picks the Canucks already own. He has traded away an awful lot of picks since he got here.

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#6 Panic in Canuckland
January 21 2013, 04:11AM
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JCDavies wrote:

"Gillis has done a poor job of drafting"

Is this really the case? He was only hired two months before the '08 draft and probably shouldn't be given much credit or blame for anything that comes out of that draft. And he hasn't had any high draft picks for the other four drafts he has been here for and later picks usually take longer to develop. I think it is too early to label Gillis a poor talent evaluator. The clock must really be beginning to tick for Rodin, though.

Perhaps, If Gillis doesn't decide to trade for some young players he could try keeping some of the draft picks the Canucks already own. He has traded away an awful lot of picks since he got here.

Yes, I would describe the drafting as 'poor' under Gillis. Not one single drafted player has stayed in the Canucks lineup for an entire yr. Hodgson was the closest. In a situation like this, you'd expect to see Canucks near the top of the league in prospect rankings (cause most of them are on the farm team - like Detroit). Unfortunately, they are perpetually in the bottom 5 of the league. There's no excuse, it's poor drafting.

I realize they've had low draft rankings under Gillis (other than 2008), but virtually every other team has found gems in later rounds, or late in the 1st round. You have to. I will say Gillis has found 2 grade A undrafted free agents (tanev/Lack), but it doesn't begin to account for the poor drafting. As you mentioned, he's given a lot of picks away via trade. And half of those trades were busts. He's essentially had to make trades with draft picks cause they don't have any strong players in their system to fill the void. It's a vicious circle, and a dangerous path to go down when you have an aging team.

I feel very strongly this team needs a dose of youth - I think its the missing ingredient. They have the lineup (both forwards and d-core) to shelter a line - why not make use of it.

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#7 JCDavies
January 21 2013, 04:46AM
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@Panic in Canuckland

I definitely agree that the team needs to begin a significant youth movement and I have long felt that the Canucks have been a poor organization when it comes to drafting players. But I think you underestimate how long it takes players drafted outside the top 20 to enter the league.

As I said before, I don't believe Gillis deserves any credit or blame for the 2008 draft (he just wasn't part of the organization long enough to make any significant changes to their scouting program) but I can understand it if you see it differently. I see that draft as a continuation of the Nonis/Burke scouting program.

The 2010, 2011, and 2012 drafts are difficult to pass judgement on because the Canucks had zero draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2010 draft and I think it is way too soon to pass judgement on the 2011 and 2012 drafts. Not many players from those drafts are NHL-ready yet.

That leaves only the 2009 draft as something to base a judgement on (not a very big sample size). Nobody from that draft has made the team yet but Jordan Schroeder and Kevin Connauton look like they might be close.

I am not giving Gillis a pass here, I just believe it is too soon to pass judgement. The Canucks as an organization need to be better.

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#8 Dave
January 21 2013, 10:52AM
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@Panic in Canuckland

I agree totally. Being good at drafting isn't about what position you draft at. It's about what you're getting at the position you do draft. Other teams are able to find NHL players in the late first, second and third round. Sure they might not be super stars (though sometimes they are) but it's about finding NHL talent for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th line players. I also don't think it's wise to trade draft picks away. It sets you up to fail in the future.

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#9 Jyrki21 (@Jyrki21)
January 21 2013, 11:13AM
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@Panic in Canuckland

It's not just the small sample sizes, but the lack of perspective of how a 30-team league works to begin with. I mean, realistically, the whole season is a small sample size, and so a few freak games could very well represent the difference between missing the playoffs and home ice advantage through two rounds. So in that sense, trepidation over small results -- for what they are -- is fair.

What is not fair is turning those largely random results into huge policy shifts -- e.g. the inevitable "blow up the team" talk that will inevitably start in, let's say, a week or so. I think all fans do this to a point (it's a product of a sports culture where anything other than winning the single prize is considered abject failure -- compare this to how the rest of the world treats fanship, especially in soccer) but it seems to be doubly ridiculous with our fan base when the team has been consistently good for quite a long time now. Scrapping it all at the first sign the sky is blue (i.e. the team is not likely to win the Cup, just like all the other teams) would be horrific GMing. But the calls will come, much as every individual goal-against is being micro-analyzed as the basis on which to address the (admittedly distracting) situation in goal.

A team can even miss the playoffs and still be a contender the following season without much adjustment. It's not 1991 any more -- it's not just the Quebec Nordiques who finish out of the race anymore. And the ability of a contender to actually win the trophy is pretty much dependent on luck first and foremost. I'm not sure our -- or any -- fans actually get this, and throw out their ultimata accordingly.

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#10 BrudnySeaby
January 21 2013, 11:47AM
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I agree with JC Davies. Obviously, it's too early to pass judgment on the 2011 and 2012 draft. Then the 2009 draft. Schroeder and Connauton haven't cracked the Canucks line-up yet. Had they been drafted by teams consistently lower in the standings (the likes of Columbus or even the Oilers) they would probably have played already. But it's harder to crack the line-up on a competing team. Especially for players that are not a Taylor Hall, a Sequin or a Lucic (high draft picks!).

It's senseless to debate how many drafted players should or should not have made it on the team yet. It is no strict science. Players develop at their own pace and you don't know that when you draft them.

I do think though that Schroeder should've gotten a chance now that Kesler is out. Even in a shortened season. With Vandermeer being waived, let's hope he get's a call up.

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#11 KleptoKlown
January 21 2013, 01:53PM
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It took the Oilers, who are mid season form, a lucky last second goal in the 2nd period, and a shoot-out to beat the rusty and injured Canucks.

What panic?

I do believe that Ebbett is over his head as a 2nd line center. Wondering why the Canucks seem to have no interest in Gomez or Arrnott.

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#12 Panic in Canuckland
January 21 2013, 05:47PM
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@JCDavies

Ya, I hear ya. I def agree the 2011/12 drafts are too early to pass judgment on at this point.

@Dave

Def agree. The constant trading of draft picks, to me, is a symptom of poor drafting. Gillis essentially 'had' to trade those picks to bring in help cause there was no one in their system to 'help'. As I said earlier, it's a vicious cycle. There zero chance every trade works out (for any GM), it's a educated guess - and most times you are throwing away picks.

@Jyrki21 Yes, I agree. There is some legitimacy about being concerned with this slow start given an inevitably smaller game size. But historically, this is the 'norm' for the Canucks. Most people have placed blame on the goaltending for slow starts in the past, I've always seen it as a team issue.

I hope Gillis does not cave to the fanbase re: policy shifts. I doubt he will, never been his M.O. But the media is doing their best to conjure some controversy in a situation that, at this point, isn't season ending. As you said, it's the pressure every sports team faces - but people need to simmer down and rationalize the circumstances. If the team is still bobbling in a week or two - then I'd start asking questions.

I've also always believed 'luck' is the primary driving variable for contending teams - specifically winning the Cup in a small sample size playoff format. In hockey, opponent, officiating and injuries seem to the top 3 proponents of luck. Kings were lucky enough to get 2 of the 3 last yr (when no one else did) and stormed their way to the Cup.

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