13 games in 22 nights to begin a season will make a team, and a fanbase, ask more questions than there are answers.
Already at the quarter-season mark of this shortened season, the Vancouver Canucks have seen the ups and the downs of what an all-Canadian division can provide.
A roster that is working to integrate fresh faces and young players is expected to have some pretty major growing pains especially when the lack of preseason and overall normality is heavily influencing the way things are going.
After an offseason that was considered a failure on paper, so far we are witnessing the repercussions of some spotty decision-making from a front office that is being scrutinized for their lack of aggressiveness and poise in building the Canucks roster.
There are quite a few things to touch on in the evaluation of this season to date, one thing that remains certain, is that in no way are the Canucks a bad hockey team. The way they have played in their wins against other North division foes proves that point willingly. They are a team that will be able to compete for a playoff spot come Summertime.
Yet, in a way that the fans of this team dread so mightily, the team is basically finding ways to lose games on a nightly basis when they are not at their best.
I haven't seen this much anger and overreaction to a 6-7 team who just played 13 games in 21 nights to begin a season with no exhibition games, in the midst of a pandemic in my life. #Canucks
— JABO Vancouver (@jabo_vancouver) February 3, 2021
This was an issue for the Canucks when they were a perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender, as well.
Although we may not remember it, this team used to have issues holding onto leads and containing their opponents late in games. Nowadays, we are so accustomed to seeing the team make very few unforced errors, especially in their own end under Head Coach Travis Green
We are used to seeing that because of the way the Canucks roster has been built in years past. They were always a team that didn’t play a high-powered, high-flying offensive style unless they had to. Players like Chris Tanev and Jakob Markstrom were key components of that, they masked a lot of the Canucks issues.
Now, without those pieces still in the picture, we are seeing more mistakes being made in the defensive, where Vancouver has found ways to shoot itself in the foot on various occasions.
The primal issue in their losses this season? They don’t just shoot themselves in the foot, they shoot themselves in the knee, stomach, and everywhere else, as well.
The Canucks, who lead the NHL in games played to start the season and in NHL history over a 22-day span, also lead the league in goals against, shots against, and hold a bottom twelve powerplay percentage.
All so uncharacteristic of this team, who exited the playoff bubble last season feeling great about where they stood as a team, and where they were at in the development of their system.
Now after a rocky start, fans across the city are calling for the job of General Manager Jim Benning as well as the coach to go with him.
There were some drastic mistakes that were made over the short offseason. One was even admitted today by Benning in an interview with The Province’s Ben Kuzma, where Benning stated that his team “ran out of time” in an attempt to retain the services of goalscorer Tyler Toffoli.
"Last night, I want everyone to imagine you're the owner of the #Canucks…you've got Eriksson and Virtanen, $8m, in the press box
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) February 3, 2021
Toffoli left for the Montreal Canadiens on a bargain contract and has made his presence felt in record-setting ways for the Habs, scoring a league-leading 9 goals, 8 of which have come against his former team the Canucks.
Trading away what appeared to be a solid prospect in Tyler Madden last season, and a second-round pick to go with it, the least Bennign could have done was to ensure he gave everything he could to get back Toffoli, a player that fits in with the age and progression of a young Canucks forward core.
The past is the past and there is no time to let those questionable decisions linger. This article is not to call for jobs or accuse the Canucks of being a team with no heart or identity, even if it may feel like it after these embarrassing losses.
In their victories, most notably over teams like Winnipeg and Edmonton in the season opener are signs that Vancouver is going through a severe case of ups and downs in their performance on the ice.
Some nights they look like a team with a purpose, but it isn’t enough to look at what they have done so far and say they are going to be okay down the road because it just isn’t that easy.
At the 25 percent mark of this year, what we can do is look at the trends and see what they have done well over the course of their 13 games, and also look at what needs to improve if they want any shot at competing with these high flying teams in Montreal and Toronto.
The good: Elias Pettersson appears to be on the upswing. He has found his scoring prowess and the powerplay is improving with every game.
— NHL (@NHL) February 3, 2021
To accompany that, the offensive side of the puck is where we are seeing the absolute best of sophomore Quinn Hughes, who has racked up a total of 14 points and gives him sole possession of the lead amongst NHL defensemen in points.
Bo Horvat has trailed off the rails a bit in the last few but has been steady in his own end and the faceoff circle to start the year. Brock Boeser is scoring goals at a higher rate than in his rookie year which is another good sign.
And finally, the goaltending has been keeping them in the games they had no reason of ever being in, most notably their only win against Montreal this year. Although there is plenty of room for improvement and several big, key saves that could still be made in certain situations, Holtby and Demko have been fine.
Where improvement is needed is CLEARLY in their own end. It takes no expert analysis here to know that what they are doing is unacceptable right now and this goes for everyone on the team.
It is crazy to say this, but rookie forward NIls Höglander is technically the best defensive forward on this team, based on +/- and how much time he spends out of his end.
The rest of the team should take notes on #36, who proves the point that offense and puck possession is the best form of defense a player can provide.
This is why I love Hoglander. Hard on the forecheck, smart shot to use as a dump in. Gets the puck on the wall & has the *audacity* to decide he wants to drive straight at the net. Gets close to drawing a penalty but keeps possession and then throws it back to the point. Yassssss pic.twitter.com/g5DyaBfMM2
— Cam Barra (@CamJBarra) February 2, 2021
The veteran players on this team need to find their roles again. If they are going to be eating up such a large portion of the teams’ cap dollars, there has to be some sort of positives coming out of their play. Whether it is improving on their middle-of-the-pack penalty kill, or spending more time in the opposing teams’ end, right now the only thing they are providing is goals against the Senators and brutal offensive zone minor penalties…
The Canucks are opening up a three-game set on Thursday with what many people believe is Canada’s most talented squad. As a firm, unbiased believer in the Canucks, I think they have many similarities as the Maple Leafs.
Toronto is rested, they are happy about the way they have opened the season and would like nothing more than to continue their domination over Vancouver.
So the Canucks must be ready and hopefully ste\al a couple from the Leafs in the Six.
Evan Power, Evolution 107.9