Post-Game Report: Sharks One Win Away

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This is the darkest timeline.

When I woke up this morning, I had a certain set of expectations. I would eat scrambled eggs with half a bottle of Tabasco. I would open my drawers to see just enough underwear to last another day. I would watch Roberto Luongo start tonight’s game against the Sharks. One of these three things didn’t happen. It ruined my day, and Alain Vigneault has some explaining to do.

 

This mistake didn’t totally blow up in the face of Vigneault. It burned off skin, bone and cartilage, but it didn’t rip his whole head off – Vancouver’s sports media has that job.

Cory Schneider came into game 3 in San Jose holding the fort down reasonably well for two periods, letting in two goals by Joe Pavelski in the first and second. He played reliably enough that barring a complete breakdown, he would be the logical starter for game 4.

That is until the Canucks’ worst enemy for much of this season: the third period. In less than five minutes, the Sharks took their 2-1 lead (yes, we scored in this game!) and scored three more, with two contributions from Logan Couture and another from Patrick Marleau. Each of these three goals was indicative of sloppy goaltending, a lack of preparedness, or at the very least, a player not playing to his potential. Schneider failed at doing one thing that Luongo didn’t: keeping his team competitive in an important game.

But this isn’t all that can be blamed on Vigneault. We’ve talked about our lack of scoring – TSN has talked about our lack of scoring, even old man Don Cherry has talked about it, and it needs a solution. This isn’t to say that AV is incapable of icing a team that can wring up the scoreboard on another team’s defense – the Canucks lead the west in scoring in 2012 and 2010, and lead the league in 2011. But when that stat falls to 18th in 2013, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, NHL teams can’t simply fire players that haven’t played to their expectations (unless contracts are up – get your last look at Mason Raymond, folks). They can, however fire coaches who have control over strategic decisions, bringing in a new system that the players could align themselves to, and hopefully thrive within.

Despite the blaming, Vigneault may not be immediately fired if the Sharks sweep the Canucks, as the team’s ownership and management may have some sympathy for a guy who’s brought so much to Vancouver. The coach hired in 2006 after the dismissal of Marc Crawford has brought 5 division championships to Vancouver, and stands as the team’s all-time winningest coach. The records have been great, but there is a lot to be said that the team may benefit from a change in philosophy.

Vigneault has traditionally been a defensive-minded coach, and the 2006-07 season was more indicative of what his preferred style of play was: back then, the defensive forwards and back end would play an attrition game, relying on two or three timely goals to get past teams, while Luongo would shut the back door, collecting shutouts or a roughly 1.00 goals against average. When Ryan Kesler, the Sedins, and Burrows were able to find their individual scoring touch, their own play was accepted in AV’s system, but on a whole, the general strategy was to quickly build and protect a lead.

This team has the pieces to once again challenge for a Stanley Cup with the same core, and GM Mike Gillis is to be commended for that. His responsibility was to find the gears, but the duty of making them work lays with the coach. When that doesn’t work, it’s time for a change.

This could all become fluff if the team pulls one out in this Tuesday’s game in San Jose. It’ll be a statement game. A game of such importance that whether the team shows an intent to play the game at a high level that we know they have, multiple positions in staff and players, would and even should be compromised.

Who knows whats to come in the fourth game, but let’s hope that at the very least, this team shows some heart.

Game 4 will be on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. PST. Check back with Vancity Buzz for the preview.

Vyas Saran is Vancity Buzz’s Canucks Columnist. Follow him on Twitter via @vyassaran.

 

Image via CBC

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