Just like Jim Benning leading up to Tyler Toffoli signing with the Montreal Canadiens, the Canucks are running out of time.
When the Canucks lost five of their first seven games, it was troubling, but fans could dismiss their struggles to a certain degree. After all, it was early in the season, they had new faces in the lineup, and they didn’t have a pre-season to ramp up to the regular season. Never mind that every team in the league was in the same situation, it was still too early to panic.
Now it’s seven games later and the same problems persist. Apart from a three-game sweep of the Ottawa Senators and a win over the Winnipeg Jets that was arguably the only truly good game they’ve played all season, the Canucks are getting dominated by the other teams in the all-Canadian North Division.
It’s not early in the season anymore. A quarter of the season is gone.
It’s not just that the Canucks are losing games, though their 42.9% points percentage is 28th in the NHL right now. The bigger issue is how they’re losing games: in a way that doesn’t provide much hope for them to right the ship.
The Canucks give up the most shots in the NHL by a wide margin — 36.1 per game — and even the Senators, a team that is an unmitigated disaster, averaged 38.7 shots against them. The Canucks are more of a mitigated disaster — there are glimmers of a good team hiding deep beneath the surface — but it’s getting harder and harder to believe that this team is going to turn things around.
Apart from three games against the Senators, the Canucks have given up at least 5 goals against in 8 of 11 games. Their defensive problems extend beyond just one facet of the game. It’s turnovers, lost puck battles, blown reads, and missed defensive assignments. There’s no easy fix.
It's not just shots either. The Canucks give up the most scoring chances at 5-on-5, the second-most high-danger chances, and the highest expected goals against, all according to hockey analytics site Natural Stat Trick. There's no way to spin the numbers to make them look any better: the Canucks have been just plain bad.
The team’s top players are struggling. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are shadows of the dominant players they were last season. J.T. Miller is, by his own admission, playing terribly. Of his two points on Thursday night, Miller said, “Honestly, that might have been the only two times in the O-zone I had the puck today, so I was lucky.”
Brock Boeser is...well actually, Boeser has been pretty good. Same with Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson, and Nils Höglander. But pretty good hasn’t been enough to earn wins for the Canucks when so much else is going wrong on the ice.
“There is a lot of hockey left,” said Horvat after Thursday’s loss to the Maple Leafs, “but we need to find it here soon.”
He’s right on both counts. The Canucks do have 42 games left to play this season, but there’s still not a lot of time for them to figure things out. A quarter of the season has come and gone. More will slip away in a hurry if they don’t find a way to staunch the bleeding.
Saturday's game looms large. They’ll be playing in prime time in the East on Hockey Night in Canada against the most paid-attention-to team in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Messing up on that stage would be like Sex Bob-omb screwing the pooch in front of Gideon Graves. All eyes will be on them and an embarrassing performance could mean that certain people on the hot seat will no longer have a seat at all.