Ugly start to the season

Alain Vigneault forgot to remind his team that the game starts at the beginning of the first period, not the second period.

The Vancouver Canucks got off to a woeful start to their 2009-2010 campaign, as they lost 5-3 to the Calgary Flames last night. The second half of the game was a drastic and impressive improvement, but their start to the game was as bad as we’ve seen the Canucks play in several years.

The Canucks ended the first period down 3-0, with Roberto Luongo letting in three goals on only seven shots. You could blame Luongo for the horrible save percentage, as a much sharper Luongo would have stopped at least ONE of those goals. However, all three goals were screens and the first two goals were power play goals.

The Canucks awoke in the second period and played a much better game for the final two periods. In fact, they utterly dominated the third period. At different points in the third frame, the Canucks were outshooting the Flames 11-0 and 18-1. But it was all too little, too late. The Canucks got within one goal, but Dion Phaneuf iced it for the Flames with an empty-net goal late in the game.

The biggest problem with the Canucks start to the season was their defensive play. With the exception of Kevin Bieksa and momentary flashes of skating brilliance from Christian Ehrhoff, the entire defensive corps was horrible. The Flames forwards, who may wondered how they were going to score this season, appeared to have their way in the Canucks zone, skating circles around the Vancouver defencemen.

The Canucks forwards played a very solid game for the last two periods. Specifically, Alex Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson had great games last night. Canucks fans should be encouraged with Samuelsson’s play after a lacklustre pre-season. He added a spark to the game, and played with an edge last night, which was exactly what the Canucks needed to break their funk after the first period.

In my article yesterday, I said that the Cnaucks had five keys to improving over last year and becoming an elite team in the league. Those are also the five keys for the Canucks to win any game. Last night, the Canucks only took 2 of those 5 keys; they had an effective power play and limited their shots against while drastically outshot the Flames. Where they failed was that they were undisciplined to start, their penalty kill was awful, and their puck movement out of their own zone was sub-par. It is clear that the Canucks defence has yet to gel properly, so there may be a few more games ahead of the same type of effort from the back end. It is time for the veteran Canucks blueliners to show their maturity, and simplify their game until they start to mesh as an entire unit. They cannot make high-risk passes. They cannot take stupid penalties. They cannot miss their checks. They cannot let opposing forwards drive to the net at will.

We’ll see if they can improve their defensive when they take on the Avalanche in Denver Saturday afternoon.