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The Canucks aren’t good enough to stay the course

This shouldn’t be a particularly controversial statement: the Canucks are bad.
Willie Desjardins Canucks

This shouldn’t be a particularly controversial statement: the Canucks are bad.

How can I say that? The Canucks just had a six-game winning streak! They’re currently on a four-game point streak and have points in ten of their last eleven games! Bo Horvat is an All Star! Nikita Tryamkin is big!

All of these things are true. The Canucks are still bad.

This latest run has brought the Canucks to the heady heights of 20th in the NHL in points percentage, which, as you’ll note, is still not very good. They’re 25th in goals per game and 18th in goals against per game, which explains why they’re 24th in goal differential at 5-on-5. They’re 29th in shots per game and they allow the 10th most shots against.

Things don’t look any rosier when you look into the underlying analytics. They’re 21st in corsi, 25th in fenwick, and 26th in expected goal differential, according to Corsica.Hockey. It doesn’t matter how you adjust the numbers, whether for the score being close or tied, they just get worse. In all of the statistics that tend to predict where a team finishes in the standings, the Canucks are near the bottom of the league.

They might be able to deal with such lousy numbers at even-strength with good special teams. Instead, they have the 29th-ranked power play and the 22nd-ranked penalty kill.

And yet, the Canucks have a coach who is insistent on staying the course, sticking with lineups and power play formations that are very clearly not working.

There are major questions to be asked about the lineup at even strength — Why did it take so long to give Loui Eriksson another chance with the Sedins? Why do Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi play less than Brandon Sutter and Markus Granlund? Why does Jayson Megna play so bloody much? — but the real questions come on the power play.

The Canucks have one of the worst power plays in a decade, so why is Brandon Sutter still on the top unit? Why is Eriksson, who was signed for his proficiency as a goalscorer in and around the net and his experience playing with the Sedins, not playing on the first power play unit with the Sedins?

And why in the name of Orland Kurtenbach is Jayson Megna and his one career power play point on the power play at all?

But Desjardins insists that it’s all going to work out. “It’s a pretty good [first] unit and guys can score and I believe in them. They’ve scored their whole career and we’ll go with it a while longer...that’s our best group...I’m prepared to see what they can do and I’m not going to change it for three or four games.”

First of all, no, it’s not your best group. Sutter has one season with more than three power play goals and it came seven years ago. Eriksson had ten power play goals last season and has proven chemistry with the Sedins. This isn’t bloody complicated.

This is the point where people argue that Desjardins must have his reasons for keeping Sutter on the top unit, but to that I respond, the Canucks have one of the worst power plays in over a decade. There is very little they could do to make the power play worse at this point, except to put Megna on the top unit instead of the second unit.

Beyond that, I just can’t comprehend Desjardins looking at the Canucks’ execrable power play and say, “Yes, this is good. I like this. This will lead to success.”

The Canucks are tied for the lowest shots per 60 minutes on the power play. It’s not like they’re getting chances and the puck's just not going in. They’re not even getting chances. They’re dead last in unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes on the power play. Whatever it is they’re doing — the schemes, the personnel — it’s not working.

But Desjardins has a stubborn streak. The Canucks’ lineup had largely remained the same of late, with any lineup changes forced by injuries rather than any attempts to put a better team on the ice.

New waiver claim Reid Boucher finally got into a game when Jayson Megna fell ill, but lasted just one period with Brandon Sutter and Markus Granlund before he was shunted to the fourth line with Jack Skille getting the promotion. Desjardins put up with six games of Megna dragging down the Sedins, during which he managed no goals and just one assist, but one period was apparently enough to determine that Boucher was detrimental to the Sutter line.

Boucher was interviewed during the first intermission and he said something that I loved, but I’m not so sure Desjardins would feel the same. When asked what he needs to do to stay in the lineup, he said, “We have to be better offensively. Too many one-and-dones.”

In one sense, he’s absolutely right. The biggest issue with the Sutter line is that they frequently struggle to maintain possession in the offensive zone and create sustained pressure. It’s been a problem throughout the lineup, really.

In another sense, he’s absolutely wrong. What’s going to keep him in the lineup and get him in the good graces of Desjardins, for better or worse, is how he plays defensively. Because the Canucks are simply not good enough to trust in their ability to outscore the opponent. In order to win games, they need to play dull, boring, low-event hockey, limiting the opponent’s ability to score, but in the process limiting their own as well.

The Canucks are bad. Through playing low-event hockey, they might still sneak into the playoffs and, with some heroic performances from key players, might be able to avoid embarrassing themselves.

But there’s very little reason to be conservative when it comes to the power play, particularly if they’re aiming to be in as many one-goal games as possible. They can’t afford to have one of the worst power plays in the league when they need goals so desperately. And there's very little reason to stubbornly stick with a lineup that has struggled to even be mediocre.