The Canucks were doing a whole LOT of this last night: CHASING THE PUCK.
And they have a new Canuck Killer on their hands – Alex Steen.
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
We’re now 10 games into the Vancouver Canucks’ season, and one thing has become clear to me: the Canucks have mastered the art of phoning it in.
Whether the man in net is the much-maligned Roberto Luongo or the golden-boy Cory Schneider, the Canucks effort level when starting games has stayed at 0 with no signs of increasing. Last night, their disinterest was on full display from start to finish, and the Canucks biggest problem lies with their best players.
The Sedins, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis have been down-right terrible and last night’s game was no different. While the Sedins and Bieksa look lazy, disconnected and lost, Dan Hamhuis looks panicked and tentative. Don’t be fooled by the Sedins point totals. For 50-55 minutes of every game, they’ve been tuned out. Manny Malhotra and Ryan Kesler are clearly still recovering from off-season surgeries and still need time to get back to full game speed (Malhotra MUCH more so than Kesler). Cody Hodgson, finally playing in his first full NHL season, looks okay, but he’s still making mistakes and at times, he’s pretty easily shoved off the puck. I’ll cut Cody a little slack because he’s certainly had more good shifts than bad. Jannik Hansen has been just roundly terrible. Aaron Volpatti is a detriment to his team every time he is on the ice, losing puck battles and taking penalties. So that leaves Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins, Max Lapierre and Dale Wiese. (I reserve judgement on David Booth, but the signs are pointing to positives. But no report card just yet). Those are the four forwards that have been consistently good for the Canucks this season. And last night, this same exact list was true. Four. For those keeping score, that’s one first liner, one second liner and two fourth liners. Yikes. Luckily for the Canucks, these players also predominantly play on the penalty kill, which shows because the Canucks PK has been pretty darn good. But that’s about it.
The Canucks offence is bored and ineffective right now, and the St. Louis Blues solved it early. The Blues ground along the boards, seemingly won every neutral-zone and defensive-zone puck battle and stayed tight the Canucks forwards. The Canucks forwards weren’t skating well or forcing the game speed up, so they didn’t draw the Blues into taking any penalties. It’s hard to go on the attack when you (a) don’t have the puck, and (b) aren’t playing well enough to draw penalties. And to top it all off, the biggest symptom of all of their offensive laziness is the fact that the Canucks have scored the first goal in only 2 of their 10 games. The Canucks offensive game relies pretty heavily on being out front. When the Blues suffocated the Canucks forwards, the Canucks weren’t able to find any flow or rhythm to their game. When Alex Steen got the Blues on the board to open the scoring, the Canucks started panicking and rushing plays and got completely off their game plan. Right now, the Vancouver Canucks are making opposing goaltenders look like world beaters, and Brian Elliott was no different last night. Because the Canucks started panicking and rushing, they took very low-percentage shots, making it easy for Elliott to backstop his team to a shutout.
The Canucks have now been shut out three times in their first 10 games. And lest we forget that they only scored 8 goals in 7 games on their way to a Stanley Cup Final loss. If you are a Canucks fan, it is time you admit that the lack of offence is a BIG problem.
Then there’s the defence. Oy. The defence has a much different, yet equally troubling, problem than the offence. While the offence looked roundly disinterested, the defence looked panicked and disorganized. There is absolutely no structure to their defensice schemes right now and last night showed that in spades. The Canucks D turned over pucks, lost battles along the boards and are generally got outhustled by the Blues forwards. When the Canucks do happen to make their way into the offensive zone, the point men looked confounded with what to do with the puck. They nervously passed it back and forth, double-clutched on taking shots, then tried to get pucks through which were easily blocked. Sound familiar? Yeah. This sounds like EVERY game, not just last night against the Blues. Kevin Bieksa has been the worst Canucks player on the ice most games this year. Dan Hamhuis looks confused and a step behind. Keith Ballard has been red hot or ice cold within every game. Andrew Alberts is slow and terrible. Last night, the Canucks best defenceman (and probably their best overall player) was Alexander Sulzer, and last night was his FIRST game of the year.
Last night, the Vancouver Canucks made a very mediocre team and a very mediocre goaltender look like world champs.
Their next game, at home to the Washington Capitals, is the Canucks’ first must-win game of the year. A convincing win shows that the Canucks actually do care about playing hockey. Another loss like the one last night to the Blues and the Canucks need to come to the realization that they may need to make some awfully big changes.
But the biggest change that needs to happen after last night is: COMMITMENT. This team, from Captain Henrik to Aaron Volpatti and everyone in between, needs to start being committed to playing hard from the opening whistle to the final horn.