The Canucks have all elements of their game rolling right now. They have four lines working for 60 minutes. Both their PP and their PK are in the top 4 in the league. They are dominating the faceoff circle. Specifically in their last three games, they have outscored their opponents 17-5. In these games, the defense has been mostly poised with the puck, making simple plays and moving the puck up ice quickly.
So the question is… Why the hell can’t they do this against Chicago?
During last night’s broadcast of the Canucks/Flames game, Chris Cuthbert called the Blackhawks "Vancouver’s kryptonite". Yes. Yes, there are.
The Canucks are a very good team, and they have proven it this season. Sure, they have been on the wrong end of a couple of lopsided losses, but for the most part, the Canucks are very solid, well-rounded, deep team. So why on Earth do the Canucks have this failure to beat the Chicago Blackhawks?
The answer is simple: Coaching.
The Canucks coaching staff does a pretty decent job of setting their team up to playing the remaining 28 teams in the league. Given the play of the Canucks special teams so far, the hiring of Newell Brown is looking like a stroke of genius. Alain Vigneault and his bench staff seem to be doing a good job of getting their players to play their style of game – a fast-paced, puck-possession game. When they play for a full 60 minutes, they look as dominant as any other team in the league.
Except against the Blackhawks. For some reason, AV and the Canucks just bend over to Blackhawks and let them play their game, leaving the Canucks to defend and take a containment style approach for the whole game. It simply doesn’t work, because that isn’t how the Canucks are constructed. They are constructed like the Phoenix Coyotes, who have a defense-first system. The Canucks are built to control the puck and score goals through a full 60 minutes. The evidence of that is their box scores from the past three games. When they do it right, they are a steamroller. If you look at the Canucks lineup, they do not have the personnel to be defenders for 60 minutes. The Sedins are never, ever going to be Selke candidates. They both take too many hooking/holding penalties in their own zone to be fully effective 2-way players. Mason Raymond may play the PK but he is only effective because he is fast and can pressure, not because he is good at containing his opponent. And the fourth is still an experiment and is usually the only minus line on any given night.
Sure, you have Kesler, Burrows and Malhotra, and to a certain extent Hansen and Torres, but that’s 3-5 players out of a forward group of 12.
As for the defense, Ehrhoff is always an adventure when trying to transition north-south, Ballard is still trying to find his game (and it’s coming along slowly), Alberts is always one bad game away from being back in doghouse again, and Bieksa could very well go back on one of his cold streaks. And when the Canucks left Willie Mitchell go to free agency, they relinquished their one true shut-down defenseman. While Hamhuis is a great all-round defenseman, he is not a true shut-down guy, although he is playing that role this season.
And then there’s Lu. Roberto Luongo is the Canucks’ Manny Ramirez and the Blackhawks are his Yankees. They are his daddy. This is not a physical problem with his play against the Blackhawks. This is purely psychological. The Blackhawks are in his head and show no signs of getting out. Dating back to the 2009 playoffs, Chicago has hit Luongo up for 7 goals three times, 6 goals once, 5 goals twice and has chased him from the net on at least two occasions. That’s over a span of only 17 games. Brutal.
So what’s the solution?
The Canucks, their goaltender, and their coaching staff need to imagine that they are playing the Calgary Flames. Or the Colorado Avalanche. Or the Poughkeepsie Muffinmen. Whatever. The Canucks need to play THEIR game and stop coaching against the Blackhawks.
So it’s time for Mike Gillis to employ some of his unconventional tactics and hire a personal visualization expert. Someone who can coach the entire Canucks personnel to picture the Blackhawks as the Idaho Steelheads.
Stop cowtowing to Chicago and play your own game. You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And doggone it, people like you!