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.
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 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 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.