October 11 2013 12:21AM
On Thursday night the Canucks lost, once again, to the San Jose Sharks. The Canucks just can't seem to get over the hump against this Sharks club, which at least to my eyes appears to be bigger, faster, and better where it counts than Vancouver is.
We'll get into it more after the jump.
Over at extraskater.com, the numbers paint a bleak portrait of a game in which the Canucks got curb stomped. Curb stomped might be putting it kindly, it's more like they were the Krusty Burglar getting pummeled repeatedly into the pavement by Homer in Krusty makeup.
The Sharks outshot the Canucks five-to-three with the score tied, while out-attempting the Canucks eleven-to-six. The Sharks outscored the Canucks three-to-zero in score close situations, while attempting 23 shots to Vancouver's 10. Even though Vancouver spent much of the game trying to level the score, they were thoroughly out-corsi'd (not to mention out hustled and out played, which is the same thing).
If you want to take a positive out of this game, I suppose you could fantasize about a day when John Tortorella works out a game plan that frustrates the Sharks as the Canucks figure out how to occasionally mix in a 2-1 victory over a superior club. Either that or you can commend the Canucks for only giving the ever dangerous Sharks power-play three opportunities on Thursday night, an improvement over the eight opportunities they gave them in the season opener. But honestly, if you're looking for silver linings the pickings are slim.
I guess the play of Mike Santorelli counts, but really, that was probably his last full time outing with the twins for a bit (I assume Kassian will get a shot there off the bat, and then Burrows will be healthy). The good news for Santorelli is that he certainly looks like a credible NHL player through five games and he's obviously impressed Tortorella. As some of Vancouver's regulars return to health, perhaps he'll get pushed down to the fourth line where he'd represent a massive upgrade over Tom Sestito.
The Sedin twins were the only two Vancouver skaters who came out ahead on Thursday night in terms of shot attempt differential. Dan Hamhuis continued to play like someone is slowly poisoning him, as another uncharacteristic mistake from the usually steady defenseman led directly to San Jose's third-goal.
The Jason Garrison - Hamhuis pairing, which was so, so good last season, struggled mightily in this one. It's not weird for the Sharks to expose Vancouver's lack of depth - that's what happened in the season opener for example - but it's concerning for them to lay such a beat down on the top-end of Vancouver's roster. That's what happened on Thursday...
Ryan Kesler, for example, was on the ice for 16 shot attempts against and only 8 for. That sort of thing used to be unheard of, but it's become increasingly common since Kesler's injuries became more regular and serious. Is he an elite play driving center anymore? I think that's basically the biggest existential question facing the Canucks this season. Through five games he's shown that sometimes he still can be - he was in the opener, and against Edmonton last Saturday. But he hasn't been that player the past few games, and he wasn't in limited action last season.
So, yeah, I think we'll have to wait another 25 games to really diagnose where Kesler is at, the good news is that he's in the black by the possession data despite facing tough matchups and difficult usage. The other good news is that though he's failing the eye-test somewhat, he's also been snakebit by the percentages (925 PDO so far) which might explain why his play hasn't impressed fans and the media this season...
Needless to say the Richardson group and Dalpe's line were pummeled on Thursday, and the Sharks put up an even-strength goal against both of those lines. When an elite team with a lot of depth like the Sharks gets a goal against your fourth and third line each, it really leaves the twins running uphill. They didn't have enough to pull the rest of Vancouver's forwards kicking and screaming to victory on Thursday night.
Anyway, the Canucks aren't in bad shape long-term. The goaltending hasn't really been there for them at even-strength yet, but it will be because Roberto Luongo is as steady as they come. Or at least that's true once the calender flips to November. The Canucks still look like an above average even-strength club, particularly because Vancouver has some horses on the back-end and the twins are just so ridiculously good at hockey. Also Vancouver's special teams have been impressive (and they might be silly good short-handed).
So, yeah, these repeated losses at the hands of the Sharks are probably pretty demoralizing for Canucks fans. For the team as well, I'd imagine. But hey, I've seen nothing from the Canucks yet that has disabused me of the belief that they're safely a playoff team this season, and a playoff team that can maybe make some noise with a couple of meaningful forward upgrades. Oh and another positive: the Canucks don't play the Sharks for another 13 games.