The Canucks didn’t score, so I used this video from a year ago.
With Daniel and Harrison out on a road trip in Oregon, enjoying the thrill of having your gas pumped by someone else, it fell to me to cover this game. Like anyone swapping footwear with Sideshow Bob, I’ve got some big shoes to fill. So far, the Canucks have 0 points in games that I cover. I am the worst of the lucky charms. That’s right — I’m the red balloon. Just like the last game, this game was a throwback to a previous era of the Canucks. Actually, since February began, it’s felt like we’ve been watching a different hockey team. These are the Canucks of 07-08. Think about it: injuries so bad on the blueline that they have to go further down the depth chart than they should ever have to. Failure to gain any kind of traction or get onto any kind of roll. Scoring chances that just won’t go in, no matter how much they should. Long, grinding games where the Canucks just hope the other team makes the big mistakes first. Luongo as the only reason the Canucks stay in the game up to the third period. I get that this is the 40th season and the Canucks are looking back on the past, but I’d rather re-live last December than 2008. That season, like this game, sucked. And I watched it.
This makes the 12th game that the Canucks have alternated between win and loss. Some have laughed that fans would consider this a slump, but those who’ve been watching the team know it really is. The Canucks are playing frustrated. Passes aren’t connecting, shots are missing, coverage is failing, and the Canucks are getting hemmed into their zone more often than they should. It’s a testament to the skill of the team that they can stay at the top of the conference while playing like this, but as @mozy19 observed, we’ve got to hope this doesn’t keep up in May, or we can swap John Garrett out for Bob from ReBoot.
The Predators surprise a lot of people by being a good team. When you consider their leading scorer heading into the game was Shea Weber, with 39 points, and the Canucks’ leading scorer has more than double that total, you’d expect the skill level of the teams to be pretty lopsided. And you’d be right. Still, you won’t find a more hard-working team than the Predators. The Canucks got outworked, plain and simple, but that happens to a lot of teams who play the Predators. The Canucks need to be harder, better, faster and stronger. Daft Punk may be the cure — with all the distortion, how do you know that’s not really Robert Smith’s voice?
Really, though, what’s going on with the Canucks? They just don’t look as dangerous anymore, and their transition game is a big part of what’s wrong. With Edler gone, it’s not hard for the opposition to predict who’s going to be counted on to make a breakout pass. And to all those who cursed Bieksa and his pinching, notice how often the Canucks lose the zone while trying to get set up now. Bieksa and Edler did a lot that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet — they had a way of making the Canucks spend more time in the offensive zone. Give Alain Vigneault credit for making things work without them.
But then, take that credit away again. He’s not making it work. The Canucks are finding ways to win despite horrible play, but it’s not like Edler and Bieksa were the only defensemen on the team that can do what they do. Ballard was counted on as a puck-moving defenseman on every non-Canuck team he’s played. Hamhuis played a similar role in Nashville when they lost Weber and Suter to injury. Gillis gave AV six defensemen who can play his system. Losing two should not mean the system falls apart — especially not for a Jack Adams candidate. Get it figured out, Alain.
The Predators commentators predicted a goaltending duel before the game began, and had to feel smart about it after the game. They shouldn’t. “Goaltending duels” are the most ridiculous concept ever created to hype up a game, as goaltenders don’t interact with each other. Luongo would have played the same way if the Canucks had scored 6 or 7 goals. I bet he misses the times when they did. All in all, Luongo was tested a lot more than Rinne. When the Canucks buzzed around Rinne, it wasn’t Rinne that kept the puck out, but the Canucks’ inability to hit an open net.
There have been some ridiculous almost-goals, haven’t there? Another thing reminiscent of 07-08, where the likes of Taylor Pyatt would consistently miss open nets. This has gone on for a few games. The Canucks have had some really bad puck luck, of late. They keep getting close, but like Hall and Oates, all they see is missed opportunity.
I’d forgotten about Shane O’Brien’s “aw shucks” look after taking a penalty. The Canucks still have a feared power play, so opposing game plans tend to include not taking penalties (for the Predators broadcasters, it was one of their “Ford Keys to the Game”), and leave it to O’Brien to forget where he is. I remember how angry that look used to make me when he took bad penalties. I bet Nashville fans everywhere hate that look now.
No players particularly deserve credit for the loss. Ehrhoff finished a -2, but that’s because he was on the ice once the Canucks really needed to score, which includes the whole of the third period. It could be argued that Hornqvist’s goal was the backbreaker, but the Canucks had gone 57 minutes without being able to score, and I’m not convinced the last three minutes would have been any different. Shame on Dan Hamhuis for losing the puck there, but it’s hard to stay mad at him. He probably knew the Canucks weren’t going to score, and wanted Hornqvist to think he was a nice guy. Did you see the way Hornqvist cheered when he scored? Poor guy needed that goal more than the Nucks needed to stop it.
There were only two Canucks last night who seemed like they wanted to win. One was Roberto Luongo, the other was Jannik Hansen. His display on the penalty kill, getting the puck in the offensive zone and then retrieving it on the forecheck three times got well-deserved cheers from the crowd. That could have been a momentum changer, but the game had more inertia than Homer Simpson.
Speaking of the crowd, why so quiet? The “7th man” was useless last night. The Canucks would have done better going with an actual seventh man, like the Avalanche did. I understand it was a boring game, but the crowd could help out if they gave the Canucks something to feed off of. They could have at least shouted “Off-ui,” which is well-known as the cure for ennui.
While I usually immediately believe everything Vigneault and Gillis ever tell me, I wasn’t buying the bit about the Canucks being in good shape after two periods. The score was tied, but the game was not going well. The Canucks were content to play Nashville’s game of trying not to make mistakes. The Canucks are best when they generate chances, not when they wait for them. The team used to be saying during this quasi-slump that they were getting away from their game. Now Vigneault is saying that tight-checking hockey is just what’s going on in the league right now. What gives?
I barely noticed the fourth line, which is good. Maxim Lapierre took no penalties, and there wasn’t much in the way of rough stuff between whistles, either. To all those doubting Lapierre could fit in, we now have the incontrovertible proof in the 8:13 he played last night. Cower before my anecdotal evidence.
Finally, let’s note that the injuries and the slump, these qualify as adversity. I’d like to see the Canucks rise well to face it. I haven’t forgotten the Sharks of 2009 saying they lost in the first round because they weren’t well-equipped to find ways to win when things were going poorly. The Canucks have managed a .500 record since things have been going poorly. It’s not awful, but it makes for a lot of Game 7′s. This is a team that has never won when trailing after the first period. Let’s hope they discover some resilience before the postseason hits.
Pass it to Bulis is the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. Without spaces, it's also our e-mail address. Have stuff to say? We want to hear from you. Talk to us at passittobulis [at] gmail.com.