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.

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10 comments

  1. yobbei
    November 7, 2011

    awesome analysis and love the screenshots made everything clear.

    I wonder if booth and ballard would read this.

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    • a
      November 7, 2011

      they should!

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  2. John
    November 7, 2011

    What’s fun about it is these guys played for allegedly “defense first” coaches in Florida: Pete DeBoer and Jacques Martin. Ballard initially did well in Florida, but his defensive partner (Nick Boynton) was traded with him and he was covering for his mistakes, which became apparent when Boynton was benched for the season around the trade deadline for mouthing off to the coach. Boynton wasn’t retained and Ballard had a bad next season before he was traded to the Canucks. Booth had the second worst plus-minus in the league last year. Before last season, he played with Stephen Weiss most of the time, but last season DeBoer played Weiss with Chris Higgins and Cory Stillman and Booth played on the second line and was double shifted on the fourth line while Darcy Hordichuk was on the bench. Booth got demoted from the second line to the third line before he got traded for these defensive lapses.

    All of this is to say: none of this is surprising and it’s why they got traded.

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  3. CanucksWino
    November 7, 2011

    Not that I’m in love with Booth’s defensive read on this play, but there were two other players other than Booth and Ballard that made big-time mistakes on this play. First, you could argue that Max Lapierre (as seen in the 2nd freezed-frame) had Kruger on the backcheck. It’s a 3-on-4 for the Hawks, and Booth is helping out Ballard which shouldn’t be an issue. If Lappy follows Kruger right to the crease with a purpose, Lapierre would have had a chance to tie up Kruger’s stick.

    And secondly, Luongo’s rebound control on this play is brutal. A snap-shot just above the crest, and he puts the puck right into the slot…

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  4. tom selleck's moustache
    November 7, 2011

    “alternated hot or cold like they’ve been treating a sinus headache (or stimulating a nipple)”

    Lol, nice. So much good information on multiple levels with that statement.

    Otherwise, great deconstruction of the series of events leading to the juicy scoring chance (and hence, the goal). Hopefully, the coaches will be able to get that sorted as that’s just not going to fly in the playoffs. However, given that Ballard’s still dealing with these issues after a year here doesn’t instill one with a whole lot of confidence.

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  5. northsouth
    November 7, 2011

    I think you should just stick to the video, your still shots are a little misleading. Ballard was never out of position as he was in the process of shifting his weight to cut to the middle in front of Salberg, which he did. This was Booth’s gaffe from start to finish.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      November 7, 2011

      Respectfully, Ballard puts himself out of position the moment he drifts past Stalberg and towards the boards. You never give the player the inside of the ice.

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  6. invisibleairwaves
    November 7, 2011

    Clearly, they just need to spend more time around Sami “+1 in an 8-1 loss” Salo.

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  7. Guy @ HockeyBias.com
    November 7, 2011

    Marie Hui and Clay belt out an inspirational Caucks’-centric chorus and verse compilation. A for effort!

    http://www.hockeybias.com/hockey-news-past/2011/November/CCC-Clay-s-Canucks-Commentary-for-November-7-A-Musical-Medley-featuring-Marie-Hui-video.html

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  8. Allan
    November 8, 2011

    Excellent article. Please do more of these.

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