On the face, it doesn’t seem to make much sense; a team featuring two recent Art Ross champions and multiple players capable of netting 30 goals a season that just can’t seem to buy a goal lately. Yet such is the case for the Vancouver Canucks, who lost their fourth straight game (2-1 to Dallas on Sunday night) while scoring only one goal, and many a head is being scratched in Vancouver over why.
It’s certainly not for lack of effort. Last night they put a whopping 43 shots onto Stars goalie Kari Lethonen, yet only one (officially) found it’s way behind the Finnish netminder. It’s been a common theme during this four-game streak, as the Canucks have averaged 35 shots per game but only have four total goals to show for it.
That’s a 2.86% shooting percentage for those of you keeping track, a number that certainly isn’t sustainable and should turn itself around soon. But how? Overall, the team is fourth in the NHL with 32.6 shots per game and they regularly outshoot their opponents, yet somehow they are 20th with only 2.5 goals per game.
The team’s two top snipers, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler, are mired in lengthy scoring droughts. Both started the season hot, but Sedin hasn’t scored in six games and Kesler has just one in his past eight. Daniel’s brother Henrik Sedin, the team’s scoring leader, finally potted one last night after a ten-game goalless streak (though he’s not known for finding the back of the net, he also has just two points in his last five).
For Kesler, the frustration is palpable. “We’re professionals. We’ve got to start burying those chances. Really, enough’s enough,” said Kesler after the game. “We have to bear down and not get frustrated, but we have to capitalize. That’s on us.”
In short, the top line hasn’t been good enough lately, which has prompted coach John Tortorella to split up the group, which had been so strong earlier in the year, in an attempt to spread the scoring around. However, it doesn’t seem to have done much good.
The Sedin’s usual running mate Alex Burrows was back on the top line with the twins last night, though it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Burrows has played ten games this season due to injury, yet still has zero goals, only three assists and a minus five rating. Certainly this isn’t what the team was expecting from the former 30-goal scorer when they gave him a raise starting this season.
The depth scoring seems to have dried up as well. Free agent pick-up Mike Santorelli, who started the season so strong with four goals in the first five games has just one goal in the 17 games since. Another former 30-goal scorer, David Booth, has just one goal through 13 games. Grinding winger Jannik Hansen, a player the Canucks hoped would increase his offense this season, has been little better with two goals in 12 games.
The team isn’t getting much help on the backend either. For a defense corps featuring the likes of incredible shooters such as Alex Edler and Jason Garrison, they have just 10 goals as a group. It’s just not good enough.
Compounding the issue is Vancouver’s moribund power play. The team has had 69 power play opportunities so far this year, but has just eight goals to show for their efforts. That’s an11.6% conversation rate, the fourth worst in the NHL (they do have power play goals in two consecutive games however).
It’s little consolation that the Canucks have the best penalty killing unit in the league when the power play, formerly this team’s bread and butter, can’t help them win games.
So where does the blame lie, on the forwards, the defense, the special teams, the coach’s system, or is it just plain bad luck?
If you want my honest take, a lot of the problem is due to the latter. No team can continue shooting at 2.86% as the team has for the last four games, it’s just not possible. Last night against Dallas, the Canucks were frankly dominant, peppering Kari Lethonen again and again with shots. In the second period alone they put 20 shots on goal. Despite Burrows hitting the post on a glorious opportunity and Henrik Sedin scoring a goal that was (unjustly) disallowed, they just couldn’t get that extra goal they needed in the back of the net.
The team could still use another game-breaking forward though (the Canucks, and everyone else in the league, apparently). It was thought when Booth was brought on board that he would be a dynamic addition to their top six, one that would augment the Sedins and Kesler quite nicely. It’s apparent now, with just two goals over the last two injury-plagued seasons for Booth, that it’s not working out.
Same for young power winger Zack Kassian. When Kassian was brought over from Buffalo in the now infamous Cody Hodgson trade, it was hoped he could develop into a Todd Bertuzzi type. Though he’s shown flashes of becoming that type of player, in 73 games for the Canucks over parts of three seasons he has just 12 goals and 19 points.
Meanwhile Hodgson, a 2/3 center type with scoring ability, a player type the Canucks desperately need at the moment, is producing well in Buffalo with 16 points in 22 games. Hodgson may have needed to leave Vancouver no matter the situation, but the return thus far in the form of Kassian has been underwhelming.
From Tortorella’s perspective, the team is still doing all the right things. “I thought our team played hard,” said Tortorella after the game. “We just need to stay within ourselves and keep on playing and not get frustrated and not let it get to us.”
It’s hard to fault Tortorella for the team’s lack of offense. Most fans around the league will point to his hire as an indication (based on the style his previous team played) that goals would be hard to come by for the Canucks. The reality is that Tortorella has given the forwards free-range to do as they like to create offense. Defensemen are regularly pinching to create offensive zone time, and the team certainly isn’t short on quality scoring chances.
Tortorella is preaching that the work ethic that the Canucks have shown in abundance this season will eventually be able to help the team break through this slump. “It’s not about blowing things up, it’s a matter of staying with it.” he said.
Luckily for the ninth in the West Canucks they still have some time to work things out.
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