Photo credit:© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchies: Is it time for the Vancouver Canucks to go get a top six forward?
1 month ago
The Canucks’ 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night would have been the perfect game to pin on Andrei Kuzmenko’s lack of forechecking, but alas, he wasn’t available for that duty.
That’s probably why most coaches resist tinkering with the lineup after a win, if we’re being honest. Because if you’re victorious the next game, the team is simply on a roll, of course they’re still winning games. Nobody is going to applaud your lineup adjustments for contributing to the win, which means at the very best, you might get a nod from Mike Liu in The Statsies.
But if you lose? People will start questioning why you messed with a winning formula. Especially if you lose a 2-1 game in which your top six looked absolutely dead inside, almost begging for an injection of offensive creativity. The best way to describe the energy from the Canucks was it was as if they were visiting Delaware with Wayne and Garth.
There they were, down a goal in the third period, and their best chances came from the Corolla Garland line.
For whatever reason, the top six just could not produce a goal. Hell, half of them played the way Kuzmenko does just before he gets benched.
That being said, they did get some chances on occasion. Brock Boeser will be dreaming about a wide open shot he had in the third period that he fired wide, something Tocchet touched on after the game.
“We missed a glorious chance in the third. We had about four or five missed nets…gotta hit the net on those shots.”
Maybe the PDO Gods took their pound of flesh in this game.
Maybe Lekkerimaki’s performance at the World Juniors is putting pressure on Brock to chase down that 30 goal mark, lest he lose the title of best shot in town.
But the end result was a middling performance from the Canucks top two lines on a night in which Andrei Kuzmenko’s offensive skills were parked on the bench. On a night in which nobody in the top six, Suter aside, seemed that invested in forechecking or playing solid North/South hockey. Or as Tocchet succinctly put it, “I thought we had some guys going, some guys weren’t.”
Anytime a team loses a one goal game, you tend to overanalyze it a bit. Something about having two points almost within grasp makes it hard not to try and play the “what went wrong” game. There’s a reason the game 7 in 1994 has a more haunting, long lasting presence than the game 7 in 2011.
The tone in the locker room after the game, however, seemed like one of turning the page. Just move on and execute better next game, don’t ruminate on it too much. It’s a healthy mindset, to be fair. Nobody needs Quinn Hughes openly sobbing on camera, screaming as he chucks his stick in the corner, demanding to know why his life always ends up like this.
Instead the team will focus on the rest of the six games remaining on the road trip ahead of them.
It just leaves the rest of us sift through the rubble and wonder if the Canucks let one get away in St. Louis.
Best time is a flat circle
If you search “Tocchet” and “forecheck” on Twitter, you’ll quickly come to realize a) how much he loves forechecking and b) how much he talks about how Kuzmenko needs to forecheck. I’m at the point where I don’t know what keeps Tocchet up more at night, thinking of people forechecking hard, or thinking of how people can exist and not want to forecheck.
And no one apparently raises the ire of
Travis Green Rick Tocchet more than Goldobin Kuzmenko. Andrei can come out of the lineup even after a win, but sometimes wont get back into the lineup after a loss, so it does feel like there is a rather large uphill battle in front of him.
I don’t doubt that Kuzmenko can improve his game or find ways to produce a more consistent board battle work ethic, but it’s hard to see why he’s singled out above every other player to such a degree. I also wonder how much of a grinder you’ll ever be able to make out of him, as his skill set is what it is. Why spend so much time and effort to turn him into an elite third line mucker if that’s never going to be his strong suit?
Is Kuzmenko some can’t miss top six player that the Canucks need to play with Elias every single game? Of course not. It’s hard to argue at this point that the Canucks are going to have to target another top six player if they want to lean into this season’s results, and don’t quite trust Kuzmenko to fill that role.
But on a team that clearly needs some offensive juice in its 5 on 5 production, it just feels like you should have him in your lineup over the Nils Amans of the world, while you work feverishly on that Jake Guentzel trade or whatever.
That being said, there is a precedent of going to the Rick Tocchet School of Hard Work and Stuff:
It was just under a year ago that Brock Boeser was getting “the talk” from Tocchet about the birds and the bees of North/South hockey.
Since then, Boeser has rejuvenated his offensive game and re-dedicated himself to Vancouver, even if I don’t necessarily see a forechecking/backchecking demon bursting out of him.
So maybe the key to winning Rick over is scoring a ton of goals? Maybe for every goal, you’re forgiven for three soft backchecks?
I don’t know, we’ll figure this out.
Best getting your stuff in early
The neck guard gives Garland a bit of that Christian Cage heel look, and I am here for it:
A tale as old as time as Corolla Garland drives hard for a clean zone entry, then spins and jukes his way to create a bit of room for himself to make a good pass to a linemate. Eventually the puck comes back to Garland, who gets to live his dream of unloading a clap bomb from the slot that beats old friend Jordan Binnington.
If you’re a fan of never wanting to hear the bad things in life, you can probably just shut this article down here, as this was the clear high point of this hockey game for Vancouver.
Or, wait, scroll to the bottom so Quads metrics show that you read it all.
For the rest of you, let’s dive into this.
Best third line in the league?
Best third line in the league.
Best picking up the picante pace
Nils Höglander continued his tenuous relationship with the lineup by managing to land on fourth line duty for the night. And while he didn’t attempt to score while behind the net, he did have a nice power move in the first period:
He missed the net on the shot, something of a trend on the night for the team, but he did showcase how hard it can be to knock him off the puck.
Smaller players will always struggle with that prejudice against them, that they can’t play with the big boys, which is why being hard to knock off the puck is so vital to their careers.
It’s the same thing with Corolla Garland. He might not stiff arm you off the puck like Nils does, but he’s crafty enough to spin away from checks, and he’s unusually good at protecting the puck with his body.
I have to assume the key to all of this is the Marty. St. Louis rule of thick thighs save lives.
Best learning new UK slang
If the JT Miller vs Drance showdown taught me anything, it’s to always do the research on even the smallest of things. I thought UK Fan was trying to say “early days” because I hear that often on Love Island, my main source of English culture. “It’s still early days, love. This ain’t friend island, babes.”
So I was all set to make a joke about auto-correct making our friend look like a right fool, but then I couldn’t stop picturing JT Miller’s little smirk as he tries to hide his laughter. His sly little grin and sparkling eyes when he knows you made a mistake and he got to call you out for it. You know the one:
So the last thing I need is JT Miller to call me out, tearing me down for not knowing my UK slang, and making me look like an absolute mug. So after a quick search, I can confirm that “early doors” is indeed a popular sports saying across the pond.
All of which is to say that Thatcher Demko had a solid first period.
Now, people tend to yell at me about a lack of Demko gifs. “Wyatt, where are the Thatcher gifs, give us the Demko gifs, blah blah blah.”
I’ve tried patiently explaining to people that Demko is bad for gif business. That he’s so technically sound that he makes even the hardest save look tedious. That Demko gifs are basically a waste of your time to watch, because visually, they’re so mundane.
It’s like a friend screaming at you to come quick, you’ve got to see this, only to have them show you a quarter they found on the ground. “Remember when we all used to carry change around in our pockets??” they marvel as you slowly walk back to your air fryer to finish making your chicken strips, questioning the friends you chose in life.
But I am a man of the people, so here is an example of one of the good saves Demko made through the first twenty minutes:
Pass in behind the defence? Not an issue for Demko, as he’s already sliding to his left before the puck even arrives. Thatcher Demko would be Jim Hughson’s worst nightmare because he doesn’t give you a chance to shout “GREAT SAVE, DEMKO” because he’s stopped the puck so calmly that he doesn’t give off enough energy for you to lean into a high excitement catchphrase. “Meticulously efficient stop, Demko!” doesn’t have quite the same flair to it.
Even when Demko does get called upon to make a bit of a splashy save, he’s still bouncing back into position, with nary a leg flail to be seen:
Kicks out a bit of a rebound, but then slides to his right, blocks the puck, then is already standing up ready for the next shot.
Artus Irbe would have stacked the pads and then thrown his stick in the general direction of the puck on a dump in, much less a post to post save attempt.
Yet here’s Demko being all technically proficient and stuff, ruining my gif money gravy train.
Still, early doors and all that.
Best load of tosh
Ian Cole is the media scrum MVP as well as one of the most reliable 3rd pairing defencemen the Canucks have had in recent years.
So you know I would be first in line to hype up a brilliant defensive play from Cole that potentially saved a goal.
Alas, it was not meant to be:
Ian Cole would be the first one to tell you he didn’t get a piece of this puck, and that it was more of a misfire from the Blues than anything.
But maybe just the mere thought of Ian Cole was enough of a threat to make Buchnevich fire wide and hurry his shot.
Best predictive stat
Best not my cup of tea
The Blues would then tie the game up as the Canucks kind of got caught puck watching:
It’s like watching a flock of seagulls sort of waddling around a park, watching to see when someone might drop a piece of bread. It’s beautiful in a way, but it also doesn’t feel very effective. Why don’t the seagulls spread out and try and cover more ground? Why overload one side of the park? It feels like better defence could be played by the seagulls.
Aside from the questionable structure, however, we do have to give credit to Colton PARAYKO. Why is that capitalized you ask? Because I copy and pasted the name out of a fear of misspelling it and having JT Miller mock me.
The point is, that’s a fantastic shot from Colton. A perfectly placed laser beam to the far side of the net? That’s like when you toss a fadeaway hook shot with your napkin into the trash can across the room. Sometimes you earn that swagger in your step on a random Thursday night. Hard to fault Demko for not making the save on that one.
Can we fault him? Of course we can, this is Vancouver, get in here while we mock him.
But do we have to? No.
Best stop faffing around
My biggest wtf moment of the game was when the Blues were called for a high sticking penalty, but the referee let the Blues breakaway play out:
Buchnevich was called for high sticking at the start of the play at the blueline on Quinn Hughes, but for some reason they went “hold up, let him cook” before finally calling the penalty after Buchnevich hit the post.
I mean, on one hand it was kind of amazing because the crowd 100% thought their team had earned a penalty shot or a powerplay, only to find out they had gotten the penalty. And part of me wishes the Blues had scored on that breakaway, just so the fan reaction to the penalty would have been ever worse. The wrestling fan in me would have loved it, it would have been like the fans waiting for The Rock to come out only to discover it’s Evan Rivers.
But overall, I was mostly confused how the ref makes a high sticking call on a player with the puck, then just lets it play out rather than whistling the play dead due to possession.
Best taking the piss
If Jamal Mayers has taught us anything it’s that there is never a situation in which someone isn’t actively wishing more players threw down and got physical over everything:
Alas, nobody got slashed in the face to send a message, but I think Demko coming out to give the “wtf bro” shove and stare was more than enough here.
Let’s just say I am more open to someone hunting for revenge if Elias Pettersson gets run from behind versus Buchnevich just wanted to remember what it felt like to score again. Like I get it, it’s a no no to do this in hockey, but I don’t think we need anyone dropping a clothesline in response to it.
Even if Zadorov would look glorious going full Stan Hansen.
Best up the spout
Compared to the days of yore, back when the Canucks would absolutely bleed odd-man rushes against to the point they’d break Demko halfway through the season, this game was a downright defensive gem.
That bar is of course ridiculously low, which means there were some breakdowns in this game such as this:
Everyone once again goes full seagull as they all shift in formation, which leaves an awful lot of open ice behind Tyler Myers and to the right of Quinn Hughes.
Demko makes the save, as he often does, but through two periods the Blues had 10 high danger chances to the Canucks 4, and a lot of them were of this variety. The ones where the goalie is forced to make a big save, whereas the Canucks high danger chances (they got 8 to the Blues 0 in the third by the way) mostly ended up being shots from the slot that went wide, versus these in tight one on one showdowns with the goalie.
So while it’s easy to summarize a game with “hit the net!” it still felt like the Blues were working harder and generating the better high danger chances.
What I’m saying is we need a category for high high danger chances.
Best seeing a man about a dog
One of the few one on one high danger chances I mentioned did come at the hands of Teddy Blueger:
That’s a solid as a pizza you’ll ever see in hockey, but Jordan Binnington came up big for the Blues. You can see him bored in the nets, waiting for the zone exit, before realizing he has to jump into action.
If it wasn’t Jordan Binnington, I would spend more time hyping him up and giving him credit, but, you know.
Best controller input
Happens to the best of us.
Best easy peasy
Look, not enough people talk about the power of icy hot on the genitals. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, icy hot in the nether regions can solve 78% of the sporting world’s problems.
You won’t miss your bus in the morning if you’ve got that burning sensation fueling you. That’s all I’m saying.
Best full of beans
Look, I like Sam Lafferty.
I think he’s a solid addition to this team.
Nobody likes making fun of the Leafs when he gets a point more than I do.
But he plays a very uncreative game. He is not someone who is going to fully vibe with Elias Pettersson.
Some players see empty ice and see nothing but possibilities. They know to go to the right spaces to give passing options to their talented linemates.
Some players see open ice and worry about their mortgage, before dumping the puck in and going for a line change.
So say what you will about the Sedins and Alex Burrows, Burrows was an incredibly smart player who was able to produce with the Sedins as a result of that hockey IQ. Look no further than Trent Klatt in that same role to see what an uncreative grinder will produce vs what a smart creative player can do with top end players. There is a reason there are some players who make fantastic passenger players in the NHL, even if they can’t drive a line themselves (oh hi Kuzmenko, what are you doing here).
Asking Elias Pettersson to get juice out of the Lafferty’s of the world just feels like you’re selling yourself short. The long term plan has to be bringing in more top end talent for your top six.
This was the one that got away for the Canucks:
It’s a tie game in the third period. Brock Boeser gets the puck in the slot and…
He takes around 3 hours to decide on a shot location. He tries to settle down the puck and then ponders his shooting location for a few more hours. Then he fires the puck wide.
This was the best scoring chance the Canucks would have in the third period.
This was the timeline Loki would track down if he wanted to turn this game into a win.
This is where Tocchet meant they had to hit the net.
Best horses for courses
If that shot in the slot wasn’t enough of a “what if?” Marvel season 2 moment for you, here’s Nils Aman flailing away at a rebound trying to score a goal, with Höglander following it up with a, yep you guessed it, missed shot:
So I mean, yeah, sure, the Canucks could have won this game I guess. They certainly had some chances to go ahead in the third period.
But there weren’t a lot of them. And for a team that has its sights set high for the rest of the season, it really did feel like a subpar effort from a team dead set on proving the PDO truthers wrong.
No dominant offensive zone shifts.
No controlling the puck with aplomb.
No outworking the other team to generate chances down low.
Just a team that looked very disinterested in having to work too hard for a win.
Best off to Bedfordshire
The Canucks fourth line went full seagull on the Blues second goal of the game, as they completely blew the coverage that led to Rob Thomas’ smooth goal:
Höglander and Karlsson cover the same guy, Nils Aman is just sort of watching Buchnevich at the point unaware that Thomas is open behind him, and that’s it. That’s the game winner.
Blown coverage in the defensive zone that, for once, Thatcher Demko can’t bail them out on.
Part of me wonders if Buchnevich tapping the puck into the net after the whistle spurred this on. Like he told the bench how wonderful it felt to get the puck behind Demko, that they all had to give it a try. That their life meant nothing until they got to experience this.
You know what, someone really should have clotheslined Buchnevich for doing that.
Best minding your p’s and q’s
With the team down a goal, they went to their best line to generate offense.
First up was Dakota Joshua dancing through the zone before unleashing a backhand on net:
And then the Corolla line gaining the zone and shooting a puck on net that almost get deflected in:
So, to summarize, the team’s best line was once again their third line, and yet again, their top six produced questionable results at 5 on 5.
Best oh my giddy aunt
This kid has the best cardio in the NHL. He could play a full 60 minute game and I wouldn’t bat an eye.
Ok, I might bat an eye a couple of times, but I would kind of go through that Alonzo Mourning gif of shaking my head before accepting it and realizing it actually all makes sense.
Best pip pip
The Canucks best chance with the goalie pulled? A Brock Boeser shot set up by Corolla Garland, who same himself getting first unit powerplay time with Kuzmenko out of the lineup:
There was next to no room to shoot at for Brock, but I can comfortably say that October Brock makes that shot.
January Brock? All this guy cares about is hair products.
Best final conclusion
The road trip doesn’t get any easier from here, with the Devils, Rangers, Islanders, and Penguins all waiting for them.
The good thing about sports is it can often have a short memory if you start winning.
But if it doesn’t, we’re going to need a lot of answers from Ian Cole when the team gets back home.
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