There he is with hours of programming to fill trying desperately to get creative when talking about nights like last night. (Art Gallery steps anyone? 3pm. You bring the signs, I’ll bring a drum. Rally For The Radio Guy?)
Look, I get paid to watch hockey, so I’m not really expecting a whole lot of sympathy, but let’s be honest here – there wasn’t a whole lot to be said after Thursday’s 2-1 Canucks shootout victory in Los Angeles. And yet the nature of the job is to talk and talk and talk about all-things Canuck. And last night, all that needed to be said is that the Canucks got away with one at the Staples Center.
A masterpiece it most certainly was not. But the two points in the standings this morning look the same in print as the points gained in that 7-1 whitewash of the Montreal Canadiens earlier in the month. The bottom line is the Canucks found a way to win Thursday night and quite remarkably with the rash of injuries they’ve been dealt in the first month of the season, this a hockey team that has now won seven of its last 10 outings.
Think about that for a moment – at times minus some or all of Daniel Sedin, Sami Salo, Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Mathieu Schneider, Rick Rypien, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Johnson (and now it looks like Alex Bolduc has been added to the list), the Vancouver Canucks have managed to win more than their share of hockey games.
There was a night recently where the Canucks had more than 2400 games of National Hockey League regular season experience out of their line-up replaced by guys who had combined to play 100 games in the show. So it can’t be a surprise that something has to give – and on many nights recently, it’s the entertainment value that has taken a hit.
But really what are the alternatives?
With the limited selection of healthy bodies they’ve got at their disposal, the Canucks have no choice but to take a defence-first approach. Thursday in LA, they were outshot 31-15, but as Andrew Raycroft, who made his first Canuck start of the season and picked up his first NHL win since February 20th said after the game, he was forced to make a handful of tough stops but faced very few second chance opportunities. And when the final shootout shot was taken, the end had justified the means.
The danger in the style the Canucks employed against the Kings is that it can work in the short-term, but it’s hard to imagine the team having sustained success sitting back and playing for overtime every night.
In the first and third periods, when the Canucks had four and two shots respectively, they also had no power play chances. When you hang back as much as the Canucks did at times against the Kings, you’re not doing the things necessary to draw penalties.
With all the injuries the Canucks are dealing with, they still have one of the best power plays in the NHL and that’s where they have to do some damage. But in order to score power play goals you have to have – wait for it – power plays.
Of the injuries the Canucks are dealing with Daniel Sedin is the only top six forward currently out of the line-up. That leaves Henrik Sedin, Michael Samuelsson, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond and Michael Grabner. There is certainly enough speed and skill in that group to generate chances and attack the other team’s net on occasion while still being mindful of defensive responsibilities. Rather than simply getting to centre, dumping the puck in and peeling off for a change, the skill players have to look for opportunities to make some things happen in the offensive zone and either create scoring chances or force the other team into penalties.
A full-on blueline blockade worked for one night, but it won’t be the answer in the long-term. However, until a few more bodies return to the line-up, it’s a strategy that will likely be employed.
At 7-6 on the season, the Canucks have the identical record they had after 13 games a year ago when they went on to win the Northwest Division. Certainly they’ve got their work cut out for them if they’re going to defend their crown, but to be a game over .500 given all they’ve been through in the early going is a credit to the group that is finding a way to get the job done.
It’s not always pretty and it’s not always a ton of fun to watch, but pro hockey is a results-oriented business and for those of us whose job it is to talk about the hockey team, it’s sometimes difficult to go on at length about the way the Canucks are going about their business.
But right now, the one thing that can be said and should be said is it’s hard to argue with the Canucks results. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.