After a second straight President’s Trophy, not many predicted the Canucks would be gone in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Even fewer would have predicted that they would be gone in only 5 games. So where did they go wrong? Lets investigate.
To start off with, this upset is probably not as big of an upset as you might think. To start off, the Kings finished the year with 95 points. That’s more than the winner of the Southeast division (which isn’t saying much I know) and only 2 points back of the Pacific division winner. That point total was also earned in a more difficult division than the Canucks play in. So perhaps the gap in points between the two teams is not as large as it may seem. The Canucks are also much less of a favourite without Daniel Sedin in their lineup.
But still, despite this, the Canucks had the more impressive regular season, no doubt. But the Canucks and Kings were not the same teams in October, November, December and January as they were in February, March and April. The Canucks lost Cody Hodgson and added Sammy Pahlsson. The Kings lost Jack Johnson and added Jeff Carter and made a coaching change. The Canucks’ power play finished the season with impressive numbers but the last half of the season it wasn’t very good. Meanwhile, the Kings finished very low in goal scoring, but were scoring at a higher rate near the end of the regular season.
This is all hindsight of course, and despite this, the Canucks should have put up a better fight.
I place most of the blame in game 1 on Alain Vigneault. To start Mason Raymond on the first line goes against all logic. While Daniel Sedin was out of the lineup late in the season, Vigneault had an excellent chance to have auditions for Daniel’s spot in the lineup. Not much was on the line (they were going to finish either first or second, and would have been better off finishing second as it turned out), and Vigneault experimented. Raymond spent little to no time on the top line, and the only guy that looked at home was Max Lapierre. Instead of starting game 1 with Lapierre with Burrows and Henrik Sedin, Vigneault decided to experiment during the most important time of year. Not surprisingly, Raymond didn’t look good on the first line. Vigneault also mixed up his pairings for game 1 (also against all logic), playing Kevin Bieksa with Alex Edler and Sami Salo with Dan Hamhuis. Luckily Vigneault learned his lesson after game 1, but he didn’t give his team the best chance to win right out of the gate.
Game 2 was a case of the Canucks giving the game away to the Kings. They carried most of the play, yet lost the game 4-2 because of a couple of inexplicable blunders while on the power play. The Canucks outshot the Kings 48-26, but I think that stat was inflated. They got a lot of shots on Jonathan Quick, but many were from the perimeter without traffic in front.
In game 3, the Canucks played like a desperate team, but also a team without confidence. They outshot the Kings 41-20, once again many of their shots came from the outside. Conversely, a lot of the Kings’ shots were difficult shots to stop.
In game 4, the Canucks gained more confidence and were able to make plays (having Daniel Sedin back helped). They also gave up a lot of chances to the Kings but got great goaltending from Cory Schneider.
In the final game of the series, game 5, I thought the Canucks were lucky to send the game to overtime. They got a fortunate bounce to take the lead 1-0, but were outplayed. Cory Schneider kept the team in it, but that only delayed the inevitable.
The Canucks couldn’t score in the 2012 playoffs. Daniel and Henrik Sedin were point a game players in the playoffs, but the secondary scoring went flat. Ryan Kesler was unimpressive, despite 3 points in 5 games. Every other one of their forwards had 0 or 1 point in 5 games. Kesler’s line was largely ineffective throughout the series, as was their fourth line which was grossly outplayed by the Kings’ fourth line, particularly in game 4 and 5. The Canucks’ third line was supposed to be their shutdown line, but they failed to shutdown anything. The Kings’ top line looked dangerous throughout the series.
So what went wrong? In short, everything except for goaltending.