By Jeff Paterson
The good news - and yes there was some good news to come out of Wednesday's 3-0 home loss to the Blackhawks - is that the Canucks won't have to face Patrick Lalime in the playoffs. Come to think of it, they won't have to deal with Ty Conklin or Sean Burke either.
But unless the Canucks find a way to manufacture intensity, urgency, and the will to win against some of the lesser-lights the NHL's Western Conference has to offer, then it's no bargain the rest of the league's going to have to face Roberto Luongo
come playoff time.
Yes, it's difficult to get up for the lowly Hawks less than 24 hours after a rousing 5-2 win over a bitter division rival like the Oilers, but it still has to be done.
As it stands right now, the Canucks are in a fairly comfortable position to lockdown one of the eight post-season berths in the conference. And yet, being comfortable seems to have been their downfall against the Hawks, Blue Jackets and Kings in recent outings since the All-Star break.
Lalime, Conklin and Burke - veterans all, but three guys who'd been banished to the minors and had exactly one full game and one victory in the National Hockey League among them this season prior to getting their starts against the Canucks - should have had more rust than an early model K-car.
But based on the way the Canucks came out against all three of those goalies, there's no way of knowing just how sharp they were because they didn't have to be. Instead of blitzing any and all of those netminders, the Canucks allowed each of them to ease into the games not one of them having to face more than 12 shots in the first period.
The Canucks can't rely on their opponents to dictate the way the game is going to be played - a bad habit that seems to have creeped into the dressing room again.
The Canucks have to find a way to set the tone in games like those and yet both Los Angeles and Columbus grabbed leads before their games were two minutes old. The Canucks, instead, seem to invite teams in to spar for 60 minutes when they should be running them out of the rink.
The worst thing a hockey team can do against inferior opponents is to give them reason to believe they might just win a game. The Canucks did that by falling behind early to the Kings and the Blue Jackets, and Wednesday, they certainly didn't give the Hawks any reason to think they couldn't compete. The Canucks may have outshot Chicago in the first period, but don't kid yourself, all of the scoring chances in the first 20 minutes came in the Vancouver end of the rink.
When the Canucks won seven straight right after Christmas, they scored first in all seven of those games. In the seven games since the All-Star break, the Canucks have scored first just twice and only once in their five games at GM Place. In the three games in question - against Los Angeles, Columbus and Chicago - the Canucks fell behind in each, never once had a lead and failed to score more than two goals in any of them.
This is all relevant because while there has been plenty of change in the make-up of the Canucks from last year to this, one of the common ties between the two teams is the inability to feast on the bottom-feeders. Last year St. Louis took all eight points from the Canucks who missed the playoffs by just three points.
So far this season, the Canucks are 2-1-1 vs Columbus, 0-0-1 vs Los Angeles and 2-1 against Chicago - that's six points squandered in eight games played. Of the Canucks remaining 27 games, three are against the Kings, three others are against Phoenix, they have two left with St. Louis and a rematch with the Blackhawks next week in the Windy City. That's nine games - or exactly one third of the Canucks schedule -- against teams they 'should' beat. Obviously, they won't win them all - that's just the way hockey is.
The Canucks will not succeed if it takes diesel-powered enemies like the Flames or Oilers to get them going, they've got to find a way to motivate themselves when the rickshaws of the Western Conference wheel their way into The Garage. And unless they do it in a hurry, it might be an issue they can stow away till October.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org