Vancouver Canucks: Problems on defence being exposed

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Anders Nilsson
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Anders Nilsson /

Instead of shrugging off a pair of consecutive losses, the Vancouver Canucks defence let them down big time in an ugly 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday evening.

Look up “inconsistent” in the dictionary, and you just may see the Vancouver Canucks. That’s been the theme of their 2017-18 campaign thus far, and they’ve lived up to that word on this six-game road trip.

After sweeping the state of Pennsylvania, Vancouver has proceeded to lose their last three games — though none were as ugly as the 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. To make matters worse, the Islanders probably should have won by more — but Anders Nilsson stood as tall as his 6-foot-6 frame would let him.

Vancouver never had a chance in this game. On the bright side, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal made hockey look really fun. These three stars skated circles around the Canucks, with Barzal showing how he could beat Brock Boeser for the Calder Trophy.

The Isles peppered Nilsson with 36 shots, while the Canucks only had 25. Never mind the score, but the stats and recent play have suggested that Vancouver’s blue line is not good enough to fight for a playoff spot. Not for long, at least.

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For some reason, the Canucks defence has regressed since Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher returned from injury.

Frustrating, because the former is easily their top shutdown blueliner, while Stecher’s speed and quick puck movement make up for the inconsistent play in his own zone.

The Canucks allow just 2.84 goals per game, but have allowed three or more in seven of their last 10 contests. This is with consistently strong performances from both Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom.

It’s far too early for general manager Jim Benning to make a panic move for a defenceman — but you do wonder if he’ll inquire about Ian Cole of the Pittsburgh Penguins — who is available in a trade (per Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

There’s no doubting that the Canucks could benefit from more secondary scoring — as the top line of Boeser, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi have combined for 29 of the team’s 68 goals. The power play has also been mediocre throughout the year, so the defenceman can only be held accountable for so many of this teams shortcomings.

But the Canucks have a little too much talent on the back end to be performing so poorly. Besides Tanev and the surprising Derrick Pouliot, the Canucks aren’t getting enough. Erik Gudbranson is turning it over too much, while Stecher, Ben Hutton and Alexander Edler continue to struggle in their own end.

The Canucks now sit at 10th in the Western Conference, and remain five points out of first in the Pacific Division. They’re also just four points up on the Edmonton Oilers — who are second-last in the conference.

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If this team is going to continue to take the league by surprise, the blue line is going to have to cut down on the mistakes and turnovers. With so much talent on defence, it’s time for the Canucks blue line to bail out the offence and goalies for a change.

*Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference and*