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I Watched This Game: Canucks lack 'B-A-L-L-S' in loss to Kraken

"I don’t care what our record is," said Rick Tocchet. "It’s been a little bit disturbing, some of the efforts from some of the guys right now."
The Vancouver Canucks fell flat against the Seattle Kraken for their fourth straight loss.

The Vancouver Canucks’ decision to not have a dedicated, full-time power play coach is starting to look questionable.

At the start of the season, head coach Rick Tocchet said that he would be heading up the power play himself, with help from Sergei Gonchar and the Sedins, who are not full-time assistant coaches. Of those three, Gonchar is only occasionally behind the bench, joining the Canucks at times on the road from his home in Dallas, while the Sedins are more often in Abbotsford working with prospects in their primary development role.

Without a dedicated power play coach, Tocchet placed the onus more on the players to take ownership of the power play and come up with ideas for getting the most out of the man advantage. And, early in the season, this arrangement worked wonders.

For the first month-and-a-half of the season, the Canucks’ power play was one of the best in the league. It was dynamic and dangerous, with constant movement to open up passing and shooting lanes, along with diligent hard work to retrieve pucks after missed chances. 

After that initial success, however, the Canucks’ power play slowed down and wasn’t as effective. While the power play seemed to find its footing again in the second half of January but it has looked completely lost since the All-Star break. 

Including going 0-for-4 on Thursday against the Seattle Kraken, the Canucks’ power play is 1-for-28 over their last nine games. And it’s not just that the power play isn’t scoring; it also looks horrible, with an inability to gain the offensive zone and get set up and, when it does get set up, a complete lack of movement and urgency to get the puck to the net, get it back, then get it to the net again.

The power play has lapsed into its old routine of standing still, passing the puck, dusting it off, looking for a lane, and then passing the puck again. 

This was a game where the Canucks desperately needed the power play to come through because they were clearly, visibly exhausted. That’s understandable, as they were playing their third game in four nights and their tenth game in 17 nights in nine different cities. 

With that exhausting schedule in mind, it makes sense that the Canucks lacked a little jump at 5-on-5 but that’s no excuse for the power play.

It really feels like it would be ideal to have a dedicated power play coach on hand every day at practice and behind the bench in games to help the team sort out what’s wrong. Ostensibly, that’s Tocchet’s responsibility, which he placed on himself, but his attention is divided right now because there are other issues that demand his attention.

Such as, well, everything.

“I didn’t get the guys to compete hard enough,” said Tocchet, clearly disappointed in how his team performed against the Kraken. “So, I’ll take the heat on this one. We just had a lot of no shows tonight.”

As much as Tocchet said he would take the heat for the lack of compete, he ultimately put the onus on the players, even if he didn’t call them out by name.

“We had four or five guys who have been no-shows here for four or five games and they’ve got to pick it up,” said Tocchet. “They’ve got to do something. They have to. You can’t just sit on the bench and do nothing.”

“I don’t care what our record is,” he added. “It’s been a little bit disturbing, some of the efforts from some of the guys right now.”

Tocchet even got specific about the body parts he deems necessary for some of the issues he sees on the ice, though it felt a little unnecessarily gendered.  

“Guys gotta understand that when the puck comes on our rim, we have a technique to do it and you have to have the B-A-L-L-S to get the puck out,” said Tocchet, spelling it out as if there was a toddler in the room. “You can't just go in soft and you can't ice pucks on a rim.”

There’s a certain irony in this B-A-L-L-S talk when the Canucks are considering bringing in Phil Kessel, who only has one singular ball, though metaphorically he’s packed to the brim with them.

In any case, what B-A-L-L-S is standing in for is pure, simple effort.

“Just play smart and compete. It’s not X’s and O’s,” said Tocchet. “They came up with loose pucks; we didn’t. I mean, you guys saw it. I mean, there’s nothing to analyze. There’s nothing really to say.”

Well, I’m about to do a bunch of analysis and say some things anyway, because that’s what I have to do because I watched this game.

  • This game got off to such a great start. The Canucks poured on the pressure early and got on the board first. Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer lost his stick, which left him unable to poke the puck away after a Brock Boeser shot deflected off the back boards and came out in front. J.T. Miller smartly took the puck to his backhand to tuck it around Grubauer like a weighted blanket.
  • The Canucks tried shaking up the personnel on the power play, starting by putting Filip Hronek on the first unit in place of Brock Boeser. Shockingly, replacing the Canucks’ leading goalscorer with a second defenceman did not fix the power play.
  • Honestly, this was the worst game I’ve seen from Filip Hronek as a Canuck. He seemed to constantly be second-guessing himself at the point on the power play, which got him kicked off the first unit by the end of the game. At 5-on-5, he repeatedly turned the puck over in the defensive zone and got caught flat-footed trying to defend the rush. The worst part is that his errors dragged Quinn Hughes down with him like Christine Brown: the pairing had a 37.0% corsi with that pairing on the ice at 5-on-5.
  • One positive note from this game was the play of Arshdeep Bains, who looked right at home in a top-six role alongside Miller and Boeser. He was strong along the boards, had a great scoring chance late in the first period, and drew a penalty with a shifty move on Jared McCann in the second period. When Tocchet shortened the bench in the third period, Bains kept playing a regular shift with Miller, which was a strong vote of confidence in the rookie.
  • There were some strange penalty calls and no-calls all game, though the officials were at least equal opportunity in their badness. Besides, even if the referees missed penalties throughout the game, such as clear interference on Ian Cole, Quinn Hughes, and Nils Höglander, the last thing fans wanted to see was more of the Canucks’ lackluster power play. You could say the PP had no B-A-L-L-S.
  • That said, the blatant interference on Cole would have at least ended the Kraken’s power play and likely would have prevented Vince “These Are Their Stories Dunn” Dunn from scoring on a heavy shot through traffic right after their power play ended. Of course, the Canucks clearing the puck on the multiple opportunities they had to do so would have also helped.
  • “It’s going to be a focal point until we have a little bit more success and that’s just the way it’s going to be,” said Hughes of the power play. “No one cares more than the guys who are on the ice. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure this out and get the job done. If we can’t, I’m sure they’ll find guys that can.”
  • The Kraken took the lead on the power play in the opening minute of the second period on a dreadful turnover by Ian Cole. While battling for the puck down low, Cole whacked the puck right up the middle of the ice, which is generally a bad place to whack the puck. Jared “Deep’N Delicious” McCann nabbed the puck, then stabbed it into the top corner past Thatcher Demko. 
  • Sam Lafferty tied things at 2-2 with a little luck. With Conor Garland in the penalty box for fighting Brandon Tanev — which was weird, let’s all admit that, it was super weird — Lafferty skated with his linemates, Teddy Blueger and Pius Suter. Blueger dropped the puck to Suter, who fired it in the general direction of the net. The puck deflected off Justin Schultz’s skate, then off Lafferty’s torso, and in. 
  • The Kraken took the lead for good after yet another feeble Canucks power play. They quickly pushed possession the other way and caused some chaos in the Canucks’ zone. Nils Höglander got caught puck-watching, so Lafferty took Höglander’s man, which left Schultz wide open for a shot from the right boards. That would have been fine if not for Nikita Zadorov clipping Demko’s skate, throwing him off balance and leaving the far post open for the 3-2 goal.
  • Just over a minute later it was 4-2. Zadorov, Blueger, and Noah Juulsen were all in front of the net but not one of them took Jordan Eberle, who got two chances to beat Demko and needed both of them. Honestly, I have to move on from this goal, because it legitimately makes me mad how open Eberle was despite having all three Canucks within five feet of him. The only guy who came close to checking Eberle was Suter, who spotted that no one else was taking him and came out of position to try to check him. 
  • Shout out to Conor Garland for this diving backcheck to break up a 2-on-1, with the additional presence of mind to swipe the puck to Bains with his hand to start the breakout the other way. It feels like he deserves some sort of laurel or wreath or something like that as a reward for that backcheck.  
  • The two Nilses, Höglander and Åman, were largely benched in the third period, along with Ilya Mikheyev, leading to some mixed-up lines to try to get something going with a two-goal deficit. Garland got bumped up to play with Miller and Bains, Boeser was shifted to Pettersson’s line with Lindholm, and Blueger and Suter played with Lafferty.
  • It didn’t matter. The Canucks couldn’t muster much of anything. Even when Demko was pulled for the extra attacker with four minutes remaining, the Canucks couldn’t do much. Miller, Pettersson, and Hughes stayed on for an extra long shift with the empty net behind them instead of going for a line change when they had the chance and it cost them. When Eberle chased down an iced puck, Pettersson had nothing left in the tank to keep up with him, and Eberle made it 5-2.
  • On the plus side, this road trip was their last time the Canucks will leave the Pacific timezone until their final game of the season. Also, they’ll play on back-to-back nights just one more time. They’ll have a chance to deal with their fatigue and address the numerous issues that have cropped up since the All-Star break. As frustrating as this four-game losing streak has been, this is not the time to panic.