Thursday, November 18, 2010

Canucks Complete Disappointing Road Trip

The Vancouver Canucks completed their five game road trip with a 3-1 loss to Sydney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins - leaving them with only 5 points in 10 games. For most teams a .500 road trip would be considered fairly successful, but for a team that is supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender .500 is not good enough.

So what went wrong? It took them until Buffalo to actually have a good start to a game. Even though they got a quick lead in Ottawa, the first 10 minutes of each Canadian game was awful. A main reason for the slow starts was just plain old sloppy play. The entire road trip was filled with awful passes and turnovers. The Canucks were simply being too cute. Too many touch passes, too many blind passes, not enough hard work and get the puck to the net mentality.

Maybe the Canucks have been reading too many of their headlines. They seem to think they can pass the puck around at will, they seem to try for the pretty goal instead of taking their opportunity to get the puck to the net. How many times did you see the Sedins make a blind behind the back pass? How many times did you see them pass up a shot on goal in order to pass the puck? Sure it's awesome when it turns into a goal, but the over passing becomes contagious. Everyone starts to make that one extra pass - often resulting in a turnover - instead of getting the puck on net.

The Canucks success this year has been heavily reliant on their special teams. Vancouver is currently ranked 2nd on the power play at 27.1% and 6th on the penalty kill at 86.6%. That's outstanding. However five on five play is another story. Their goals for/against ratio at five on five is 0.97 which puts them at 16th in the NHL. That's not going to get you far in the playoffs. What's going to happen when the power play cools off a little?

It seems a little silly to be criticizing a team that's 2 points out of first place in the conference and which is lead by two players who are tied for 5th overall in league scoring. But this is a major hockey market who believes this team may be Vancouver's best Cup chance ever. This team is going to be under the microscope all season long. So in the spirit of looking under the microscope here are some random observations....

  • While the defense is very deep, Kevin Bieksa is the only right handed shot and that's making it tough on the guys who have to clear the puck out of the zone on their back hand. Sure Sami Salo's return would alleviate the problem, but that type of injury is tough to come back from.
  • You can debate the value or necessity of the 4th line, but one thing remains clear, the Canucks 4th line isn't very good. While Bliznak has done a pretty decent job, he is saddled with a couple wingers who are awful with the puck. Tanner Glass is a serviceable 4th liner, but Rick Rypien is an awful hockey player. Sure he can fight, but other than that he brings nothing. In 5:07 of average ice time he is a team leading -5 in only 9 games. He is incapable of getting the puck out of his zone and you just can't have that when you are on the road in the playoffs.
  • What is with Roberto Luongo? Just when you think he's getting in a groove and is recapturing his vezina nominee form, he gives up a goal like the lazy wrap around last night. That was just a pathetic attempt at getting across the crease. Unacceptable for a supposed elite goaltender.
  • Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson have to be a lot better. There's no reason why the 2nd line should be a minus on the year.
  • The guys coming off injuries have to start becoming integral parts of the team. Alex Burrows now has 8 games in, time to get it going. Keith Ballard needs to start moving up the depth chart. I'll give him this homestand, by the end he should be contributing over 18 minutes a night. I'll also give Hamhuis a pass, he's been pretty solid but he is capable of being this team's go to guy. Once his foot problem clears up he should be that guy.

The Canucks are now off for a couple days before they face the Blackhawks on Saturday. That means they finally have a chance to get a practice in. Hopefully AV can get the sloppiness out of their game.