(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
It hasn’t been a banner week for the Canucks.
Vancouver’s club has been punchless in their first round series against the Kings, they’ve been outscored 9 to 4 and their special teams have been an unmitigated disaster. One of the club’s brightest lights, All-Star defenseman Alex Edler, has struggled so greatly with his decision making that he’s quickly earning "goat" status among the Canucks faithful who only ten days ago voted him as the Babe Pratt winner (best defenseman). Add all of that to the the three-games-to-none deficit the club now finds themselves in, in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, and there aren’t a lot of positives.
There’s even a chance that the Canucks could become the first President’s Trophy winner in history to get swept in the preliminary round of the playoffs. But for a club that has made a habit of collecting unique, notorious NHL records like candy, that’s nothing new really. This franchise is the only non-Stanley Cup winner to make it to a game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals and lose, and they’ve done it twice. They’re also the first team to be shutout in a Stanley Cup Finals game seven…
But we’ll have plenty of time for an extended Canucks autopsy over the coming months, so let’s avoid that until Thursday at least. Barring a miracle sweep, however, the Canucks will almost certainly not make it out of the first round this season. The Canucks are on the brink, and there’s a good deal of doom and gloom in the Vancouver market right now, but let’s try to spin like Henrik and look at the bright side for a moment.
Read past the jump!
The Canucks Have Exceeded our Expectations Five-on-Five
One of the major reasons we picked the Kings to win this series in six games, was their superb ability to control the game at even-strength. With the exception of the first two periods in Wednesday night’s game one, however, the Kings five-on-five dominance hasn’t shown up, and the Canucks have been the better even-strength club by a fairly wide margin. Here’s an even-strength events table that includes all of our possession metrics (click here if you need a primer to help you understand any of them):
|Shot%||Corsi%||Fenwick%||Scoring Chance%||Scoring Chance% (tied)|
Really this has a been a pretty weird series. It’s rare that scoring chance percentage doesn’t correlate at all with total shot numbers. Over the 82 games this regular season, you could count the number of times it happened on one hand. In this series, through three games, it has happened twice: the Canucks out-chanced Los Angeles despite being outshot in game one, and the Kings out-chanced the Canucks despite being quite dramatically outshot in game three.
That aside, the Canucks have controlled these three games by every relevant metric except tied scoring chances (arguably the most important one). That the Canucks don’t have a winning result to show for it is largely luck. Only one of Los Angeles victories has been of the "clear" variety and that victory was earned with Los Angeles’ special teams dominance. The other two losses were a combination of bad bounces (last night especially) or untimely decision making (Edler in game one).
With no margin for error, and with the club unable to buy a power-play goal, it’s unlikely that Vancouver’s edge in possession will translate into four straight wins. The underlying numbers, however, suggest that the Canucks have been better than the results indicate, and are at least poised to make Los Angeles really earn that fourth victory.
The Long Breaks Between Games Four and Five
The Canucks and King did battle three times in six days over the past week, but they won’t play again until Wednesday, and then they don’t play game five until Sunday night. The Kings have all the momentum in this series, and in the third period last night looked like the more energetic club. All of that comes to a screeching halt this week, and if the Canucks can sneak a win out of game four, Los Angeles is going to have an uncomfortable amount of time to sit around and think about that fifth game.
The prospect of a Canucks come back at this point is extremely remote and while I appreciate the "have faith" fan sentiment, it’s a patently foolish one. That said, the wonky scheduling of this series could work in the Canucks favour over the next couple of games.
While there’s no denying that Henrik misses his brother on the ice, Daniel is the clubs best trigger man after all, he’s had several borderline heroic shifts in this series, and he’s been a model of accountability. In game three he had a shift that last well over two minutes, he won a handful of pack battles during the course of the shift and set up a couple of chances. This shift happened after he got steam-rolled by Dustin Brown and stayed in the game – so, now we know for sure that anyone who calls Henrik soft from now until the end of time is an idiot.
Henrik had a similar shift in game two, where he zipped behind the Kings net, holding the puck for what seemed like an eternity before the Kings picked off his pass out front. Nothing came of that shift, but you know it would’ve with top-flight scorers on his line and Bruce Boudreau even compared to Crosby’s mastery of Spezza a couple of postseasons ago.
After the game, Henrik took questions for twenty-minutes, the way the captain of a proud team should. He called Brown’s hit clean, he faced tough questions about the teams series deficit, and he expressed confidence that his team could find a way to claw back into the series. That last part is laughable, but what is a captain going to say? "Yeah we’re pretty well cooked right now, huh?"
The Canucks haven’t won a single game this postseason, obviously, but the team’s captain has left it on the ice. He’s demonstrated the sort of grit, toughness and leadership he’d actually get credit for if he was North American born, and he should hold his head high regardless of what happens over the balance of this series.
I loved the response to Dustin Brown’s hit on Henrik Sedin. It certainly wasn’t a predatory head-shot, but I wouldn’t call it squeaky clean either. I’d say it was a charge and definitely came a tad late, but the hit certainly fulfilled the broad guidelines of a "good, hard, playoff bodycheck" in my book.
Alex Burrows immediately went after Dustin Brown who passed the fight off to Anze Kopitar, and Burrows legitimately threw down and got more shots in than Kopitar did. Kudos to both of those top-liners for dropping the gloves in a big game, it wasn’t a memorable fight and neither of those two will be mistaken for a heavy-weight any time soon, but it was the sort of spontaneous, "standing up for a teammate" fight that I can get behind.
Rather than sucker punch Brown, or result to any cheap stuff, Kevin Bieksa – easily the Canucks best blueliner in game three – came back and threw a clean hip-check on Brown while the Canucks were short-handed. It wasn’t a clip, it was a clean hip-check and it wasn’t a low-bridge since Bieksa sealed him off against the wall while Brown made a move to beat him wide. That’s not just a good, hard hit in my book – it’s a great hit. Like Brown’s on Henrik, it probably draws a minor in the regular season, but I loved the response.
When the Kings ultimately close out this series, the lasting images will be: Mike Richards’ hit on Burrows, Richards blowing by a diving Ryan Kesler, and Brown’s hit on Henrik Sedin. That’s fair enough, the victor gets to write the master narratives. But make no mistake, this wasn’t a series the Canucks got "pushed around" in.