Vancouver fans are flying high after last night’s 6-2 shellacking of the hated (and objectively evil) Chicago Blackhawks, and understandably so. While the Canucks have alternated hot or cold like they’ve been treating a sinus headache (or stimulating a nipple) for the first month and a half of the season, they put in a hot sixty minutes at the United Centre, where cold performances are infuriating and common.
Still, while it’s hard to nitpick in a 6-2 win, it’s also tough to miss that former Floridians David Booth and Keith Ballard both somehow managed to finish at minus-2.
(If you’re wondering, yes, Booth was actually on the ice for two goals, scoring one and helping on another, but they were powerplay goals and thusly don’t count towards plus/minus.)
Now, let’s be clear: plus/minus can be a pretty silly stat. Counting the goaltender, there are usually six guys on the ice at any given time, and a bad play from just one often means minuses all around. Plus/minus can often just be a sign of bad luck, and considering that Booth and Ballard collected one of their minuses for being on the ice during Roberto Luongo’s flubbed knuckler in the first period, luck clearly factors into things.
That said, Booth and Ballard are now both minus-11 on the season. Only Eric Staal is worse. Suffice it to say, when you’re the worst in the league in a category, it’s hard to write that off. How did this happen?
It’s not all bad luck. Some of it is just bad defensive play, such as on the Blackhawks’ second goal, where Ballard and Booth combine to do absolutely nothing, teaming up on Viktor Stalberg so ineffectively that he still manages to orchestrate the play. Here’s the goal:
Let’s take a closer look. The play begins when Booth coasts by Marcus Kruger in the neutral zone, giving him a passing lane to find Viktor Stalberg at the Canucks’ blue line. This kicks off a seemingly harmless 2-on-2. Note that Keith Ballard is in front of Stalberg as this pass comes across. That’s a good place for a defenseman to be. Unfortunately, he won’t stay there.
Ballard has two options here. Option A: He can stand up at the blue line. Option B: He can get himself set for the zone entry. However, Ballard chooses the miserably unwise Option C, slashing at Stalberg while coasting past him and towards the boards. What the Hell. In half a second, before Stalberg even moves, Ballard has taken himself out of the play for no reason whatsoever. If you’re wondering why he gets scratched over Aaron Rome, it’s for crap like this.
You can see in the image above that Booth at least has the defensive awareness to recognize that Ballard has taken himself out of the play, and he wisely retreats into the zone to cover. Everything after that is bad. Rather than actually play defense, Booth vacates the wide-open centre lane to take an unnecessary run at Stalberg. That’s Marcus Kruger at the left, breaking away from Lapierre to claim the swath of unowned land that Booth just abandoned.
Here’s my favourite screengrab. As you can see, Booth has made a foolish choice, as Stalberg moves the puck to Jamal Mayers (at the top of your screen) well before he gets there for the softest hit since Jackson Browne’s “Tender is the Night“. Booth and Ballard are now completely out of the play, and that seemingly harmless 2-on-2 is now a 2-on-1 in tight, a fact that Alex Edler is just realizing. The result: Luongo gets a piece of Mayers’ initial shot, but the unchecked Kruger is free to bat in the rebound. Chicago scores. But wait, there’s more!
After Ballard darts towards the net, trying to catch up to Kruger before the inevitable goal (and inexplicably dives behind him while attempting another ineffective slash/hook), Booth, apparently satisfied with his defence on this play, coasts uninterestedly as Stalberg heads towards the net. Luckily, it doesn’t factor into the play in any meaningful way, but that’s only because the Blackhawks have already scored.
I’ve spoken in the past about how the players from Florida often need to undergo a rigorous deprogramming before they become the effective defensive players Alain Vigneault expects them to be, and David Booth and Keith Ballard are clearly still working on that.
Apart from this goal, which turned out to be inconsequential, their deficiencies didn’t hurt the Canucks last night, but against a team whose penalty kill isn’t playing completely hopeless (like, say, the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final), tight defensive play at even-strength will matter. And this wasn’t it.Tags: booth ballard, breakdowns, david booth, Defence, featured, Keith Ballard