Seven observations through the Canucks’ first seven games under Rick Tocchet
Photo credit:© Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Rick Tocchet has officially been the head coach of the Canucks for a week’s worth of NHL games, and we officially have a good sample size of games to take a closer look at the results.
Under Tocchet, the Canucks are sporting a 3-3-1 record and have looked more or less like the same team they were before their new coach arrived. Sure, the energy level of a few guys has looked a fair bit better, but the end results are still largely on par with what Bruce Boudreau was getting out of the team.
So let’s take a look at some key points from Tocchet’s first seven games behind the bench.
The defence is still not great (but it’s not Tocchet’s fault)
When Tocchet arrived, a lot was made about how he’d fix the Canucks’ weak defensive game. So it might come as a surprise to some that so far, it’s just been more of the same.
Since Tocchet took over, The Canucks have allowed an average of four goals per game. By comparison, in Bruce Boudreau’s 46 games at the helm, the team averaged a nearly identical 3.97 GA/G. Even if you bring Boudreau’s comparable down to his final six games, the number sits at 4.16.
Overall, the difference between Boudreau and Tocchet’s defensive strategies simply hasn’t changed all too much yet. But there’s only so much you can do as a bench boss when you’re handed the same underwhelming defensive group.
Maybe with more time, Tocchet will find a way to turn lemons into lemonade. But it’s a lot more likely that until some meaningful changes are made for him, he’ll keep getting lemon juice like his predecessor.
The scoring is balancing out
While the defence has seen relatively little change, the offence has seen plenty of it; not in quantity, but in who’s scoring.
With their top goal-getter Bo Horvat now a member of the New York Islanders, ‘scoring by committee’ is going to be needed to fill the void. And since Tocchet’s takeover, the Canucks have gotten far more scoring contributions from beyond their top six.
Take their last three games for example. Of the thirteen goals the Canucks have scored in the last week nine different forwards have factored in, including recent call-ups Vasily Podkolzin, Phil Di Giuseppe and Nils Åman. Curtis Lazar bumped a near season-long scoring slump versus the Devils, Conor Garland has been far more dangerous around the net of late, and their new teammate Anthony Beauvillier picked up the game-winner against his old Islanders club yesterday.
Whether or not that kind of balanced attack is sustainable or not remains to be seen. But at the very least, Tocchet seems to be pushing the right buttons with his forwards early on.
The penalty kill is just as bad
Let’s be super clear here; no one was expecting a miracle when it comes to the Canucks horrendous penalty kill. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Tocchet’s staff hasn’t been able to turn things around.
In today’s game against the Red Wings, the Canucks’ PK was victimized twice in frustrating fashion. First, an underpowered Curtis Lazar clearing attempt was picked off by the Detroit defence before a scramble left Wings captain Dylan Larkin wide open for a shot.
Then late in the third period, the Canucks penalty killers looked resigned to a fate that Jonatan Berggren would cement with his second off-angle goal of the night.
Like the defensive woes we talked about earlier, the issues the Canucks’ penalty kill is a personnel issue more than a coaching issue. But if anyone was expecting Tocchet’s staff to boost their shorthanded staff out of the doldrums, it’s not looking great. Under Boudreau, the Canucks’ PK success rate was a league worst 65.9%; since Tocchet’s takeover, that number has dropped by a single point to 65.8%.
An A for Effort
As evidenced by a few minutes in the second period of their game against the Devils, the Canucks are still prone to collapsing defensively at any given point.
With that being said, the team’s overall effort level has definitely found another gear of late.
Outside of a single glaring blemish against Seattle, the Canucks have managed to keep games a fair bit closer lately. Across their Eastern road trip, every single game has been decided by one goal, and their two wins prior to the All-Star break both ended with a three goal cushion.
Tocchet is definitely holding his players to a very high standard, as evidenced by some of his comments after their loss on Wednesday to the Rangers. And that expectation is not only keeping them honest now, but might help them quite a bit down the road.
The Canucks’ schedule is expected to get easier in the month of March, and their ability to keep games close could result in a few games flipping in their favour that might not have in January. But as we’ll get into a bit later, if the Canucks front office plans on making any roster changes before the year is out, it’ll require everybody on Tocchet’s squad to keep punching above their weight class.
J.T. Miller’s improved form
A lot of noise was made about how Tocchet was being brought in to, among other things, reign in a volatile J.T. Miller defensively.
So far, the results have been pretty interesting.
In the last six games, Miller has looked a lot more engaged with the play in general, and found his offensive groove with a point-per-game pace since January 24. But there’s been one curious wrinkle: all of his points have been assists.
Miller’s lack of goals isn’t cause for concern as long as he keep racking up helpers, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. On the defensive side of the puck, Miller’s been showing improvement in his backchecking and defensive play but .
He still has a ways to go before he can be a trustworthy regular centre, but if he’s able to take that next step under Tocchet it might assuage some of people’s concerns about his seven-year extension kicking in this offseason.
Andrei Kuzmenko is in the dog house
It hasn’t taken long for Tocchet to find his favourites – or more accurately, his non-favourites.
Kuzmenko played just over 12 minutes against both the Rangers and the Islanders, among the least of all Canucks skaters. By comparison, Phil Di Giuseppe and Nils Åman earned more shifts in both games compared to Kuzmenko.
Considering how recently Tocchet discussed his willingness to put ‘process over results’, benching Kuzmenko in a season with increasingly little to play for speaks volumes. When your team has a clear upcoming date with the NHL lottery, you don’t have much to lose by rolling four lines and letting your young players learn on the fly.
Leaving Kuzmenko on the bench for defensive struggles, despite being one of the Canucks’ most reliable scorers, is arguably the one decision Tocchet has made so far that should warrant questions. Especially if both are expected to co-exist over the next two seasons on their respective new contracts.
.500 hockey is likely the entire coach’s bump
Yes, a 3-2-1 start under Tocchet is technically an improvement from the final 1-5-0 stretch under Bruce Boudreau. But that’s likely as good as it’s going to get from here on out.
If the Canucks approach the upcoming trade deadline with their expected plan to make trades that help them in the long term, Tocchet’s options for his lineups are only going to get smaller from here. It’s going to be more difficult for him and the coaching staff to ice a winning product, and that’s okay! But that also requires us to change what our definition of success will be in the home stretch.
Keeping games competitive against deeper teams will go a long way towards building a stronger foundation for the future, regardless of the outcome. And as long as players like Elias Pettersson keep having their way, the Canucks will have no problem clearing that bar.
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