During the last half dozen seasons, the Canucks have had a lot of reasons to cheer in November. Though this particular one started well, it seems to be taking a turn for the worst.
Imagine the setting: You’ve just returned home from a vacation to someplace tropical, hot. You’ve got everything queued up, and you breeze through Customs. As you head over to the luggage retrieval belts, you see the local sports channel replaying highlights from the hockey game you missed. The first boxscore flashes – Your team started out down 1-0. Before you know it, they’re wrapping it up, with scenes of the starting goaltender being benched, and a 7-1 final is posted. Akin to the cold weather, this is not what you wanted to await your arrival.
There are a lot of cliches that get overused in hockey, and the term ‘bounce back’ is no exception. But if Vancouver ever needed one, surely it was to be against the Phoenix Coyotes. Quick turnaround time, another game at home, a real chance for redemption. The Canucks didn’t need to look far for an example; the Blackhawks were trounced the game prior, but came back in a big way. They played as if… it were pride on the line. There was some desperation in their game, and even when they were up comfortably, they didn’t sit back, they kept the throttle twisted. Unfortunately, the Canucks haven’t shown the same sort of desperation, and their position in the standings is starting to reflect that.
Now, I’m not saying that the Phoenix Coyotes aren’t a good team. In fact, they’ve just recorded their seventh straight victory, which makes them officially hot. Also giving credit where it’s due, Ilya Bryzgalov is proving pundits wrong by continuing his strong play from last season. He was equal to most tasks that Vancouver threw at him Sunday. But the game was winnable. Bryzgalov definitely factored into the win, but I think the Canucks have come into an identity crisis. Some of the work ethic, the attention to detail that comes from preparation, components that have been seemingly misplaced.
Perhaps a fair question is this: Have the weight of expectations unnecessarily burdened this club? If you were to ask some of the players, I doubt any would attribute their recent lack of success to expectations. Even though it’s a team game, there have been some expectations that haven’t been met or realized yet. Both having had exceptional seasons last year, fans can’t help but have high hopes for Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond, who scored 30 and 25 goals, respectively. Currently, they each have 4, with Samuelsson on pace for half of what he netted last year, and Raymond also for 16. Again, the season is only a quarter of the way through, but their personal struggles typify the difficulties the team as a whole is enduring.
As far as points go, though Christian Ehrhoff is on pace to repeat the 44 points (14 -30-44) from last season, he certainly isn’t set to repeat his +36 rating. Currently, he sits dead even at zero, and if the Phoenix game is any indication, his plus/minus won’t be improving anytime soon. On the winning goal, he got caught watching the puck, not tying up his man in front of the net. Though injuries to the blueline have meant different pairings and partners, Ehrhoff is another player that needs to be more accountable. One would think playing considerable minutes with the Sedins would help improve that number, but it hasn’t so far.
Between concussion problems and the flu, Keith Ballard has also had his share of troubles. In the nine games that he has played, it’s obvious that he’s still looking for his ‘A’ game. Fans are really hoping he hits his stride soon, because zero points and a -2 rating surely don’t add up to the 1st round draft pick spent to obtain him.
Again, I’m not here to pick on particular players. It’s common knowledge that any team is equal to the sum of it’s parts. Right now, those parts are mired in a funk, during a time of year when they normally have everything aligned.