Is this a slump for the Vancouver Canucks, or just an opportunity for some well-timed adversity?

Photo credit:© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
4 months ago
There’s an old adage in journalism called Betteridge’s law of headlines, and it goes that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no.’”
Well, here at CanucksArmy, we’re breaking the law, because the answer to the question in our headline today isn’t ‘no,’ it’s more of a ‘yes and yes.’
There isn’t much argument about whether or not the Vancouver Canucks are in a slump right now. As of this Thursday morning writing, they’ve lost their last three straight in regulation. That marks the first three-game losing streak of the season.
Thus far in February, the Canucks have lost more than they’ve won, with a record of 4-4-1. For the first time all year, they’ve also been outscored in February, to the tune of 27 goals for and 32 against.
It’s a slump, by any measure. But that doesn’t have to mean it’s an entirely bad thing.
They say that a team has to learn how to lose before it can learn how to win. They say that a little adversity can be good for a group of people. So long as it’s well-timed adversity, that is. And this does seem to be as good a time for the Canucks to face some as any.
No team just keeps on winning forever like the Canucks have been. We’re not talking regression or PDO or any of that business here. We’re just talking sports. Any team, no matter how good, is going to hit a rough patch at some point. That’s inevitable.
And the Canucks’ 2023/24 campaign had, prior to this stretch, been more-or-less smooth sailing. Prior to this three-game slide, the Canucks had only posted two regulation in a row on two other occasions, once in October and once in November. Aside from that, they’ve won at least every other game, and often a lot more than that. To wit, the Canucks had as many five-game win-streaks as they did two-game losing streaks heading into the month of February.
But suffice it to say that it’s better to have this first real stretch of losing come in February, as opposed to, say, late April.
Here’s the general concept at play here: the Stanley Cup Playoffs always bring a degree of adversity with them. The stakes are raised, the tempo ramps up, and the officials – who have definitely played a role of their own in the Canucks’ recent fortunes – put away the whistles in lieu of “letting them play.” The playoffs are hard, and winning in the playoffs is even harder.
What you don’t really want is for the first adversity your team faces to be in Round One of the postseason. At that point, it’s already a do-or-die situation, and any poor response to that adversity results in a team running out of road pretty quickly.
Much better to find out what a team is made of when the going gets tough if the tough can get going a little earlier in the year.
Like in February, for example.
There’s no guarantee that this stretch of losing will spiral into more, though some are certainly reacting that way. To throw a little cold water on the sky-falling narrative, we will point out that the 2010/11 Canucks, usually held up as the high-bar for this franchise, experienced two separate four-game losing streaks on route to the President’s Trophy and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. One of those four-game losing streaks came in late January.
The 2011 Canucks bounced back from that with six straight wins.
As is often the case with adversity, it’s all about what you do with it. In that sense, this particular rough patch could be especially useful for the Canucks, because one of the things it has done is highlighted some very real flaws in the team’s play.
Despite a losing record and goal-differential on the month, the Canucks are currently second in the NHL 5v5 scoring for February with 22 even-strength markers, one fewer than the Edmonton Oilers.
But they’ve only scored three power play goals on 27 opportunities, for a percentage of 11.1%, fourth-worst in the league for the month. And in that same time-span, they’ve been scored on shorthanded three times, which means their “Net PK” for February is actually at 0.0%, which is definitely worst in the league.
Things are, shockingly, even worse over on the penalty kill. Of those 32 goals scored against the Canucks in February, just 16 were at even-strength. Nine were power play goals against, giving them a monthly PK rate of 72.7%, which is not too far off their average rate, but has seen them slip down closer to the bottom of the rankings.
In other words, this current run of adversity is highlighting some very real flaws, and those flaws are almost all centered around the special teams. It’s, at the very least, a clear mission statement on how to improve the team’s performance, and something that can and will become a focus as soon as Rick Tocchet and Co. can get more practice time.
Don’t forget, this month of losses comes on the heels of the All-Star Break, and Thursday night’s matchup against the Kraken will be the Canucks’ 12th game in 17 nights. They haven’t had much chance to catch their breath amidst the losing as of yet.
But they will. And when they do, Tocchet strikes us as the kind of coach who is going to be able to turn his team’s misfortunes into some pretty concrete messaging.
The sooner, the better.
Because here’s the real reason that this ongoing experience in adversity can be spun as a good thing for the Canucks: because it hasn’t really cost them yet.
The Canucks may be having a bad February, but they’re still the top team in the league as of this writing. They’ve got a ten-point lead on the Vegas Golden Knights for first in the Pacific Division. They’ve still got the most goals for, and the best goal-differential in the league, even after allowing ten to the Minnesota Wild.
There are still 24 games left on the regular season schedule for the Canucks. That’s plenty of time to turn this around. And now, thanks to some consecutive losses, they’ve also got plenty of reason and a little bit of guidance in how to conduct that turnaround.

Check out these posts...