Tales of Truth: What’s going on?!


Too often this season, the Canucks are doing a  terrible job in front of the net.
(Photo – CSN Chicago)

A strange week for the Canucks: dominance of the Islanders, subjugation by the Hawks, a stolen win vs Ottawa. Luongo won, Schneider lost ugly but won convincingly.

The one thing we did learn this week is the team’s problems go far beyond a perceived inconsistency on the part of Roberto Luongo. The real problem lies in bad reads and heads, apparently, in the clouds.

Cam Charron tracked the chances in both the Chicago game and the Isles game (he hasn’t had time to post the Sens chances yet). As Cam noted, against Chicago, the Canucks did surprisingly well  at even strength, actually out-chancing the Hawks. Against the Isles the story was actually the opposite of what we thought – the Canucks were out-chanced at even strength by the Islanders.

The difference bewteen the two games? Power plays, defensive play and goaltending.. As has been noted, the Canucks were shut out on Wednesday, not managing to draw a penalty against the Hawks until very late in the game. Their work on the man advantage has been the team’s saving grace so far this season, so it’s no surprise they lost on Wednesday. Also, not drawing any power plays tells us another problem: a lack of aggressiveness. When a team is working hard, it keeps the pressure up on the other team’s ability to adjust. Eventually, with enough sustained pressure, a team under pressure will make a mistake. In this case, though we are often told that our eyes lie, our eyes were telling us the truth.

The Canucks, though they generated scoring chances against Chicago, didn’t exploit this pressure enough. If they’d found the extra level (which apparently they did a fortnight ago in Chicago), they’d have drawn a few penalties.

Goaltending is the other story. Lu was dynamite against the Isles. Scheinds wasn’t against Chicago. Remember when people were complaining about Lu not making the big stops so far this year? Well the understudy was 100% guilty of that on Wednesday; then again he didn’t have much help in front of him, as the Canucks’ d was regularly MIA in the slot and around the net. So when we talk about goaltending being a problem, it’s not actually goaltending. It’s team defensive play as a whole.

Both goalies currently have way below expected save percentages, we can expect those to improve. The improvement will counter-balance some of the poor decision making being made on defence, but if things are going to get better, first reads have to be better. Second reads too.

Let’s start by looking at the first three goals on Wednesday, which were all especially concerning.

Goal 1

The Canucks were leading 1-0, but a Chicago power play rush broke them open like a can-opener.

The Hawks’ entry drew all four penalty killers to the right side of the ice and Andrew Brunette found plenty of space wide on the left. Kevin Bieksa wasn’t quick enough to adjust and Alex Burrows was caught napping. Chicago’s power play is filled with talent, they’ll get chances like this, but you can’t make it easy on them by napping.

Goal 2

Another powerplay goal by Chicago, and more lack of awareness by the Canucks.

Just look at the picture- how do you end up with TWO Hawks between you and your goal line? Paddy Kane let go with a wicked shot from the slot, but the scene itself is indicative of a great problem. There’s nothing but chasing going on.

Goal 3

Another goal off the rush. This was a back breaker, after giving up five chances in the period’s first four minutes, the Canucks had kept Chicago from getting another chance for almost nine minutes. This was it.

The Hawks turned the puck over in their end and made a smart chip behind Alex Edler, in front of a hard-charging Marian Hossa. Hossa beat Edler to the puck and made a cross-ice dish to Stalberg. At that point, things aren’t terrible. Aaron Rome then decides to give away the inside of the ice, which clears a lane for Toews. Meanwhile Alex Edler is going walkabout, watching Hossa blast around the back of the net, leaving the slot totally unprotected. Maybe he was expecting Ryan Kesler to back check harder. Whatever the case, on this one, Cory Schneider had no chance. This was an awful, awful goal.

Goals 4 and 5 have nothing to do with defence. Goal 4 (which didn’t even qualify as a scoring chance) was a screened shot off the boards that Schneider got a piece of; Dan Carcillo was parked in front of him. Goal 5 was a cross-ice pass to Steve Montador which Schneider offered weakly at. He’d probably like both of those back, but by that point the game was well lost because the Canucks just didn’t threaten enough to get a man advantage situation.

Jump ahead to Sunday’s clash vs Ottawa. While Schneider was, at best, average on Wednesday, he was most definitely excellent on Sunday night.

Turnover recovery (for once)

Defensive awareness was much better. As a general rule, there was a lot more net presence. Maybe the Sens weren’t as hungry for the net as the Hawks? This is after Andrew Alberts’ brutal turnover in the first period. The team recovered well and boxed out the Sens despite the momentary disadvantage.

Goal 1

This was another pretty good defensive effort. Everyone is doing a good job controlling their space except Aaron Rome. He’s got his back to Colin Greening who will tap in Jason Spezza’s fantastic pass on the doorstep. Moments of inattention can kill ya.

Seriously, there’s 10 seconds left!

I was flabbergasted by this. It’s late in the game, you are pressing yourself at the other end, and yet you manage to let not one, but TWO Sens get free? The remarkable thing is on the right. Bieksa has half recovered, but it’s actually far worse than it looks as he and Hamhuis forgot they are to play in different parts of the rink and went after the SAME MAN ON A FOUR ON TWO. The backcheck from Kesler, Higgins and Burrows was pretty brutal too. How the three forwards managed to be so far out of the play is beyond me, especially when the action in the faceoff circle actually had time to change directions and speed. How are none of you even there yet?!

This team continues to run in fits and starts. They are a threat to score and much of the time are doing a decent job of limiting chances. It’s when they breakdown that the problems pop up. They are getting exploited badly on the rush and are having too many space cadet moments. If they don’t get things sorted out in their own end, especially around the net, this is going to be a long, long road.

  • Nice post. I can’t help but feel that you can do a similar analysis of the games that the Canucks were blown out of in the play-offs, esp. vs Chicago and Boston.

    Which makes me wonder, is the system that Vigneault has them play prone to such break downs? I’m absolutely no expert, but I’ve heard it called “puck pressure,” and if the pressure (hard-skating) isn’t there at both ends, then the team becomes really vulnerable? As opposed to the 1-3-1 trap a la Lightning, which allows players to wait more? I realize you are also blaming some lousy reads, but reads sometimes are connected to the system.

    And that makes me wonder if Lapierre, for all his qualities, just can’t replace Malhotra of last year. Add Kesler’s slow start, and the pressure doesn’t come at the right points in the system.

  • Your thoughts on Malhotra are pretty close to mine. One of the first things I recognized about Manny last year was how he was always in a very effective place – constantly asking the other team to beat him. Whether it’s just down to age, or the challenges brought on by his eye injury, he’s definitely looking slower this year.

    Lapierre is a fine player, but he’s different, he brings energy and passion. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought “wow, Lapierre’s just always in the right place!’