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Offense from the Defense

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
In an effort to get point shots through to the net, Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff brought a chair out on to the ice at practice Tuesday. The thinking was that the chair was to simulate an opposing forward moving out to the point and Canuck defensemen were supposed to put the puck through or around the chair and on goal.

Hey, I’m all for thinking outside the box and sometimes it takes something a little different to resonate with players who’ve been doing the same drills all their lives.

So the good news is that the Canucks were addressing the need to get shots through from the blueline because the bad news is that through six games this season that chair trails only two Canuck defensemen in goal scoring. What’s more is that the piece of furniture is just one goal off the team-lead in that department.

A year ago, Canuck defensemen accounted for 45 of the club’s 222 goals scored (20.2%). Two weeks into the new season, Mattias Ohlund and Lukas Krajicek are the only blueliners to turn on the red light meaning, early on, defenders have provided just two of the club’s 18 goals (11.1%).

However, it’s not just goal production that is down among the defense corps, but overall, the offense generated from the back end has been a little slow getting out of the gates this season. While the Canucks as a team have scored four more goals than they did through the first six games last season (18 this year compared to 14 a year ago), blueline scoring is off considerably. Last year at this time, defensemen had contributed four goals and eight assists on the club’s first 14 scoring plays. After Monday night, Canuck blueliners had gone three games without a goal and had just two goals and five assists so far this season.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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Now, obviously, the injury to Sami Salo has played a significant role in the drop of early season production among Canuck blueliners. And having Krajicek sit out Monday’s game against San Jose with a sore foot didn’t help matters either. When those two are healthy and injected into the line-up, the Canucks should be a better skating and puck-moving hockey club and it’s safe to assume some offense from the defense will follow.

Last year Salo led all Canuck defenders with 14 goals followed closely by Kevin Bieksa with 12 and Ohlund with 11. On a team that struggled through the first half of last season to find goals from anyone other than Daniel Sedin, the Canucks were often rescued by the heroics of one of their ‘Big Three’ on the blueline. It seemed, so often, that if the Canucks needed a timely goal one of Salo, Bieksa or Ohlund was there with a blast from the point or to jump into the rush giving his team an odd-numbered situation.

That hasn’t happened yet this year.

And it may not happen on a full-time basis until Salo returns in the next week or so. With Salo out (along Krajicek the other night), the Canucks have iced a defensive group without a ton of offensive flair – Mike Weaver scored three goals last year, Willie Mitchell and Alex Edler each had one and Aaron Miller hasn’t scored in 166 games dating back to the 2003-04 season. So it would seem that having that chair on the ice to reinforce the need to put the puck on net was probably a pretty good idea.

The Canucks are a team that relies on offense from the defense and they need opponents to respect the ability of their blueliners to contribute. That, in turn, should open up some space in the offensive zone allowing Canuck forwards more room to manoeuvre.

It’s early in the season and now is the time to work on things which is why the coaching staff would be wise to keep that chair handy. Two goals from defensemen in six games puts the blueline brigade on pace for just 27 goals all season. The Canucks, as a team, can’t afford that kind of drop-off from a year ago. They need offense from their defense and they know it which is why they’re not sitting around ignoring the problem.

That would be a waste of a good use for a chair.
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