Rob The Hockey Guy

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The Canucks Defense is Overrated.

First of all, let me start off this article by stating that this is not a knee jerk reaction article because of last night’s 7-1 debacle against the Chicago Blackhawks. I have been thinking about writing this article for some time now, and last night just cemented my feelings on this.

7-1

Lets start by analyzing last night’s game. Sitting in the stands I listened to fans get more and more ridiculous with their calls to pull Roberto Luongo and put in Cory Schneider. Nevermind the fact that Luongo didn’t give up any bad goals and his defense failed him at just about every turn. Nevermind the fact that the team in front of him showed no emotion, didn’t hit/fight or test the Hawks backup goalie Corey Crawford. Now, Luongo is and should be held to a higher standard, and he didn’t bail out the team like he should more often, but to blame him for the game was ridiculous. I was arguing with a few people in my section about this and I think I was vindicated when Cory Schneider came into the game and fared about as well. But this article is not about Luongo.

The problem with last night’s game was the Canucks defense. It’s been an issue for a while now and I think I can now safely say that the Canucks defense is overrated. How many times have we heard that this group is one of the best defenses in the entire league? True, they have a lot of depth, but their top 4 is average to below average.

Breaking it down

When you look at the goals that went-in last night, ask yourself if any one goal on its own merit can be considered a “bad goal”. Also ask yourself how many times a Canucks defenseman looked terrible on the play. Here’s my analysis:

1-0: Alex Edler allows Jonathan Toews to gain position in front of the net and fails to tie-up his stick. Toews got a stick on Patrick Kane’s shot and deflects it past Luongo.

2-0: Christian Ehrhoff looks like Dana Murzyn as Troy Brouwer breezes by him and gets to the front of the net untouched.

3-0: Andrew Alberts stands next to Jonathan Toews in front of the net on the power play and fails to move him out of the way creating a double screen. Luongo never sees the shot.

4-0: Ehrhoff goes to the same side that Dan Hamhuis was on, on a 3-on-2, leaving Patrick Sharp all alone to deke Luongo in front.

5-0: Alberts gives the puck away and Bieksa misses his assignment in front of the net, allowing Fernando Pisani to unload a one-timer from the slot past Cory Schneider.

6-0: Three Canucks are caught puck watching as Fernando Pisani is left all alone to pot the puck in the open net.

7-0: A neutral zone giveaway and some lackluster defensive positioning allowed Patrick Kane to rip a shot from the hash marks, top corner past Schneider.

Were any of these goals saveable? Yes. But they would have been excellent saves. To ask your goaltender to make that many great saves is a tall order and something that shouldn’t happen when you have a half decent defense.

The numbers

The Canucks give up an average of 31.6 shots per game. Only ten teams give up more shots per game than the Canucks right now. It’s also probably not a coincidence that the Canucks record against top tier teams this year has been abysmal. They’re 1-3-2 against cup contenders this year (Los Angeles twice, Chicago three times, Pittsburgh and Detroit).

Last year versus this year

Is the Canucks defense really much improved over last season? Perhaps it will be once Sami Salo returns from injury and new additions Ballard and Hamhuis are 100%. But as it stands right now, it’s arguably better. Last season the Canucks boasted a top shutdown pairing of Sami Salo and Willie Mitchell. As of yet, Alain Vigneault has been unable to find a shutdown pairing that rivals it. Dan Hamhuis was brought in to be that shutdown d-man, but he has been given some suspect partners of late. I believe he should be paired up with Alex Edler to give the Canucks a true shutdown pairing.

Keith Ballard was brought-in to be a top four defenseman, but for some reason has fallen out of favour with head coach Alain Vigneault. Personally I believe he hasn’t played that poorly, but there has to be a reason why Vigneault has treated him like a number six or seven defenseman.

Maybe

Maybe Dan Hamhuis is struggling a little bit recovering from his foot injury. Maybe Keith Ballard will improve as he recovers from his shoulder injury and early season concussion. Maybe Sami Salo will return and be the player he was last year. Maybe Alain Vigneault will use the Hamhuis-Edler pairing that I believe would shutdown other teams. Maybe Vigneault will stop trying to use Kevin Bieksa¬† and Christian Ehrhoff in a shutdown role. Maybe. That’s a lot of maybes and it’s making me nervous about this group. Maybe they’ll snap out of it and I hope they do. But that’s a lot of hoping and for that reason, I’m saying this defense is overrated.

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6 Response to The Canucks Defense is Overrated.

  1. Head to the Net on November 22, 2010

    Completely agree with your analysis of the goals, and I'm glad you did that. The goalie could not be held responsible for any of them, really, yet there are always calls for Luongo's head. n nThe defense was bad last night, but really wasn't the entire team? I agree that so far, the defense has been worse, but I'd say it's mostly due to the injuries to Hamhuis and Ballard. n nBallard did not play last night, and he won't play today, but that's due to the flu, not being in the doghouse. n nI just think it's too early to make conclusions on the defense right now, because we haven't seen it yet. We've seen a patchwork group, and a lot of movement in and out of the line-up so far. I'm going to wait until Ballard's at 100%, and Hamhuis has had a few games to settle back in. Admit it, that sounds promising. And then throw Salo into the mix – all of a sudden our defense looks pretty lethal.

    Reply
  2. Wammy on November 26, 2010

    You started off by saying this wasn't about last nights game; however, your whole article is about that game. Good defense also involves the forwards. To blame all the goals on the D men is ridiculous. To your point about asking your goalie to make excellent saves is a tall order – this sums up your knowledge about hockey in general. Yes you have to ask your goalie to do that otherwise they shouldn't be in the NHL. How else do you make your goalie better without asking him to strive to be a better player? And how is the top 4 average at best? Ehrhoff was 15th amongst NHL D men for points, 8th for goals scored, and 3rd for +/- last season. He's improving this season on last year's stats (except +/- thus far) and Edler is right there with him.

    Reply
    • Robert Williams on December 8, 2010

      Wammy: n nYour point about my entire article being about the Chicago game is simply incorrect. A portion of the article was about that game. It's a sample to show the point I was making. n nYes, good defense involves the forwards. It also involves the coaching and the goalies. The strength and conditioning coach probably plays a role as well. But the majority of the time, defense and goaltending are the most important deciders in preventing goals. Besides, I don't believe the Canucks' forwards are the problem anyway. They have a lot of defensively responsible forwards (see: Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, etc.). n nThank you for summing up my hockey knowledge in general but I think you've missed the point. I am not blaming the Canucks defense alone. I stated that Luongo should be held to a higher standard and should bail out his team more often. Perhaps you missed that part of the article. n nUpon further reflection, perhaps I was using hyperbole when saying their defense is below average to average. Still, it's not as good as advertised (ie. overrated) and you could make the case that these teams have a better defense corps: Detroit, Chicago, Nashville (arguably), Los Angeles (arguably), San Jose (arguably), Montreal, Boston (arguably) and Philadelphia. n nMdbzed adequately responded to your Ehrhoff argument. n nIt's over two weeks ago since I originally wrote this article and I stand by it. The defense is not as good as advertised. This is not to say that Luongo is without blame and it's not to say that their d-men won't pick it up. But as of now, their D is overrated.

      Reply
  3. Mdbzed on November 26, 2010

    @Wammy – Your argument for why we have an above average defense is that Ehrhoff is one of the top D-men in offensive categories? The writer has argued that their defense and shut-down roles are poor. I don't fully agree with the writer, but if you're gonna argue against his article, try to use some better logic.

    Reply
  4. Rgcraigie on December 1, 2010

    Pretty legit critique. While I'm obviously not the biggest fan of Luongo, all the blame doesn't fall on him (and you pointed that out in your article). I think Hamhuis will get up to speed, and hopefully so will Ballard. No idea why AV loves Bieksa so much. Based on his handling of this defense, and past instances, I'm not completely sold on AV as a head coach. I think the defense will improve, eventually, though. n nAs of right now, like Luongo, and the team as a whole, it is a disappointment.

    Reply
  5. Nuckz on December 26, 2010

    Good article, not going to critique, just add some thoughts. I agree that depth wise our defense is great. Heading into the playoffs with a lot of good D-men will be important considering the grind that is the NHL playoffs. It is likely that a D will get injured, therefore I disagree with talk of trading Bieksa (or any other D). Defense is too important to have an AHLer play in the postseason. nOffense starts with good distribution from the back (of course pressure up front makes the D's job easier, but that's another point). We have skilled Dmen who can skate well and in general make good decisions with the puck. My biggest concern is that we have no legit shutdown Dmen and that our D are soft on thier checks. Our defense needs to be stronger on our checks and earlier. They can't wait until the opposing forward has gained a favorable position; they need to be proactive and make it more difficult to gain a good position in the first place. If our D can pay attention to detail and play harder on their checks (and/ or) add a top shutdown Dman who can lg big minutes against opposing top lines, that we'll be fine. nAll we can ideally hope for is to see continued improvement that peaks in the playoffs, we should not gauge our D based on where they are at now. Defensemen need a long time to get comfortable with their D partner (learning their tendencies on player positioning & rotation, when to pinch and communication in general). nEarly in the season is a time for learning for both the players and the coach. Take the time now to experiment and see what works/ what doesn't work, experimenting in the playoffs is too late. Who cares if we lose one game now (1 out of 82 vs. 1 out of 4-7) if something is gained in future. n nTired of typing. n nGO CANUCKZ GO

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