The Canucks lost 3-2 in overtime on Monday night after outworking, out-shooting (39-22) and out-chancing the Kings. This was despite being the more desperate team, having home ice advantage and playing a backup goalie (albeit a capable backup who is red hot right now).
After the most gut wrenching loss in recent memory on Monday to the Los Angeles Kings, many things crossed my mind. Were they just unlucky, yet again? Did they need a particular player to step up? Or – and this is the scariest thought – are they just not good enough?
Here are a few things that could turn their fortunes.
Five ways to fix the Vancouver Canucks:
1. Fix the power play
The Canucks power play looked good to start the season, but they weren’t able to convert. That has progressed into a power play that doesn’t look good and still isn’t able to score. The Canucks power play is functioning at 11.6% right now, good enough for 28th in the NHL.
On Monday night the Canucks were able to score one power play goal, but were only 1-8 with the man advantage. Those numbers are even worse when you consider they squandered a 5-on-3 advantage by taking a penalty and generating very little with a 4-on-3 advantage for 1:27.
The power play is one part of the game that is affected greatly by coaching, and assistant coach Glen Gulutzan (who is in charge of the power play) must take a lot of the blame. The Canucks don’t look very creative with the extra man, choosing to fire away over and over from the point. At some point, the team’s coaches need to come up with some set plays or different looks that can allow the forwards to score some goals. Here is a set play the Canucks used to set-up Ryan Kesler last season.
The greatest flaw with the power play that I see right now is that the Canucks are trying so few plays down low (aka the Sedins and Kesler) that teams now expect and defend the point shot.
Another idea that I have thought about is having Daniel Sedin set-up on the half wall (the spot that Henrik Sedin currently occupies). Daniel, because of his shot, can be a threat to score from the half wall, while Henrik isn’t. Perhaps a small wrinkle like that could confuse opponents.
2. Play their skilled guys
I love the way Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen play, but they are capable of only so much offensively. Maybe it’s time for John Tortorella to hitch his wagon to David Booth and/or Zack Kassian a bit more than he has. Those two players were penciled in as top 6 forwards on this team but haven’t been played as such this season.
Now, Higgins and Hansen have outplayed Booth and Kassian so far, but perhaps they have to take a leap of faith. I have mostly given up on Booth, but it is not inconceivable that he could regain at least a little bit of his scoring touch. As for Zack Kassian, perhaps playing him in a more prominent role would force him to focus.
This idea isn’t one I love and it could certainly blow up in their face. But it might be the only chance they have. Otherwise I fear they might Higgins-and-Hansen themselves to mediocrity.
3. Get some puck luck
I guess this is the solution that suggests there isn’t a problem. Part of me believes this.
The Canucks have outplayed their opponents recently, in every area but the scoreboard. They have been incredibly unlucky given the amount of scoring chances they are generating. Sure, it’s partly because they don’t have enough goal scorers, but too many of their players are performing well below expectations.
Some players may not turn it around, but a guy like Alex Burrows will. He is getting chances, but not able to finish. That is going to change for someone who is typically a 25 goal scorer.
4. Get a big save
Who (or what) is Roberto Luongo? He certainly isn’t a Vezina Trophy candidate like he once was, but is he an all star anymore? He has been solid, not spectacular, this season. Having your goalie ‘steal’ a game every now and then can compensate for brutal giveaways by the players playing in front of him.
This certainly isn’t a criticism of Luongo, he is 34 years old and his skills are likely to diminish through no fault of his own. But to what degree has father time caught up with him? Is this as good as he’s going to be or will he be able to regain some of the magic we have seen in the past.
5. Make a trade
You were waiting for this, weren’t you? Many people bemoan the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, Raffi Torres, Michael Grabner and Cody Hodgson, but the guy I miss most is Mikael Samuelsson (the guy in 2009-11, not the 36 year old present-day version). Mike Gillis has never been able to replace Samuelsson, a player that was a good passer and even better shooter. He could play with Ryan Kesler (30 goals on a line with Kesler in 2009-10) and gave the Sedin line a different look when given spot duty there also.
The Canucks need another Mikael Samuelsson. The problem is they don’t have a lot of cap space or assets to make that happen. They certainly aren’t in a situation where they can give up good young players or draft picks. That likely counts out costly rental players like Mike Cammalleri, Matt Moulson or Marian Gaborik.
So who might be available that wouldn’t break the bank? Some realistic possibilities are New Jersey’s Michael Ryder (he can score goals but is struggling on a bad Devils team) and Washington’s Martin Erat (a play-making winger who could make Ryan Kesler better, and who has also requested to be traded).
Whatever the Canucks do, I think they’re likely to snap out of this funk. They are likely to scratch and claw all season to get into the playoffs, but they should get better results if they continue to play like they have lately.