There’s a pattern creeping into the Vancouver Canucks’ game right now, but it’s up to you to decide if it’s a favorable one or not.
There’s an old sports adage “Defense wins championships”, and it would appear that the current Canuck cast has given that mantra some credence. The team has only scored eight goals in their last six games, but have won four straight, the last two being 1-0 shutout wins. With the teams’ offensive nature suddenly stifled, they’ve had to find other ways to win. Their power play is a real head-scratcher, scoring only once in their last 20 attempts. Since the All-Star break, only 4 teams have scored fewer goals, which has pundits wondering how they’re still in the race to finish first in the Western conference, as well as first overall.
During Wednesday’s game against a desperate Colorado Avalanche team, Cory Schneider stopped all 43 shots he faced, earning his 3rd shutout of the season.
"It’s just the way we are playing right now. We are trying to play a smart game, trying to play good defence. If we win these games 5-4 and in shootouts and give up a lot of odd-man rushes, we’d be getting criticized for that. Obviously, the guys in the offensive end want to score, but at the same time we have done a good job of protecting leads and hanging on."
Of course, contained in the media ‘fishbowl’ of Vancouver, the players are very well aware that their production must improve. They’ve left virtually zero margin for error, having won their last six games by a single goal. Winger David Booth, who got the better of Avalanche Mark Olver in a first period fight, mirrored Schneider’s sentiments. “Yeah, we do need to get more scoring opportunities and more goals. But our mentality in the locker-room has been 1-0, 2-1 games. That’s the mentality and we know what we’ve got to do.”
So while many choose to focus on their lack of offensive production, there are those who recognize the defensive improvements this team has made. I think back to the “Westcoast Express” era (during their prime, 2005 – 2008), and how offensive minded they were. On any given night, the top trio (Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison) could explode for 3 or more goals, not to mention the Canucks’ second line with the Sedins and Anson Carter. But, the teams Achilles heel was the defense, anchored by Dan Cloutier. In stark contrast, the Canucks have never had the luxury they enjoy today. Not only do they have one of the most potent offenses in the league, but they’ve never had 2 goal-tenders of this caliber. Only Kirk McLean, and possibly Richard Brodeur hold a candle to either Luongo or Schneider. Can you remember either of their backups? I believe one was Kay Whitmore, and maybe Mike Fountain.
If the Canucks are to go far in the upcoming playoffs, I feel they are preparing for it in the proper manner. With the tight races for the final playoff berths, especially in the Western conference, most teams are basically playing playoff style hockey now. Winger Chris Higgins supported Schneider’s observations.
"Obviously, we’d like to be scoring more goals than we are, but our goalies are playing phenomenal, both of them, and it’s just good practice. You can’t simulate this in practice, the intensity, the crowd, and we’re lucky to have some of these games down the stretch to get us comfortable in these situations."
The Canucks’ win over the Avalanche completed a six-game season series sweep. It also marked the 400th straight sell-out for the Canucks, and it’s the third longest streak in major North American major-league sports. Only the Boston Red Sox and the Dallas Mavericks have longer (sell-out) streaks.
Next up: First the Dallas Stars on Friday, followed by the embattled Calgary Flames on Saturday, both at Rogers Arena.