Earlier this week, the Vancouver Canucks appeared to be making strides back to competitiveness in their efforts earlier this week against the Stars and Ducks.
But after Thursday night’s 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, those games feel like a distant memory.
The Avalanche exposed every flaw in the Canucks’ roster with precision, and by the end of the first period the game was entirely out of reach. All Vancouver could do was watch as a team missing their best player in Nathan MacKinnon put on passing clinics in front of the net, won nearly every puck battle and scored some of the easiest goals they’ll get all year.
Simply put, it was a Cup contender playing a team that has no clear direction.
“They look like a team that’s trying to find their game, a team that’s thinking about winning the Stanley Cup,” coach Travis Green said post game. “We looked like we have a bunch of guys that are a half step behind. We weren’t close tonight.”
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What’s most alarming about the Canucks’ performance wasn’t the score line itself, but how the team looked resigned to their fate before the night was even half over. Practically the entire roster checked out and showed no signs of fight in the late stages, a mood that Bo Horvat felt on the bench.
“We didn’t show any sign of response or anything,” Horvat said. “That’s just not the way we wanna play, it’s not the way we wanna approach games and it showed tonight. It’s unacceptable.”
The problem is, those nights are showing up more and more with time.
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The way the Canucks have approached hockey games in season’s past has been largely through their compete level; a hard working mentality that’s helped them punch above their weight class against stronger opponents. Horvat made mention of that mantra as recently as last month, after the club’s home opener against Minnesota.
“That’s kind of what we want our identity to be: hard to play against, really sound defensively and giving teams no time and space,” Horvat said at the time. “We know what it’s going to be like every single night when we play [Minnesota], and we have to have that identity for our team where we know when teams are coming into Rogers Arena, it’s going to be a tough night.”
But the truth is that so far, with the exception of a game or two, the Canucks have shown they’re all too easy to beat. Getting a couple power plays, catching Thatcher Demko on a night where he’s only 90% superhuman, and putting defensive pressure around the slot is all it takes for a Vancouver opponent to cruise to victory.
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According to Natural Stat Trick, the Canucks are currently fifth last in High Danger Scoring Chances percentage at 44.60 percent. Take one look at the shot map from last night, and it shows what a difference that makes against a team like Colorado, who’s currently second in the league at 57.56.
All of this comes after an offseason where Canucks management, having seen the disaster that unfolded during the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season, shelled out big bucks and moved big pieces to try and quickly bring the team back to the playoff conversation. But with the top six struggling, the penalty kill sitting dead last in the NHL and the defence as porous as ever, nothing seems to have changed. If anything, the Canucks have gotten worse.
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During Jim Benning’s eight year tenure, the Canucks have prioritized constructing a team that’s “tough to play against ” and pride themselves on doing so. But hard working hockey isn’t the Canucks’ identity anymore, and it hasn’t been since the Vegas Golden Knights bounced them from the Edmonton bubble over a year ago.
Right now, the Canucks are a team without a true identity; a roster doomed to scratch and claw for every last point until they figure out what they are. There’s still enough time left this season for Vancouver to find a brand of hockey that makes them competitive again. But considering the general manager’s firm belief that the roster he constructed is playoff capable, they likely won’t find it until someone with a new direction takes the reins.
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