There’s no relief in sight for the reeling Vancouver Canucks who come off their worst loss of the season to face a San Jose team that is finding its stride.
As if Wednesday’s demoralizing 7-1 affair with the Nashville Predators wasn’t bad enough, the Vancouver Canucks lost their top defender, Chris Tanev, to injury. Again. This is Tanev’s second trip to the IR this season and, whether you want the Tanman to be the longterm anchor of the blue line or you want to use him as trade bait, another extended injury will be bad news.
But if it weren’t for bad news, the Canucks wouldn’t have much news at all lately. Vancouver has lost four games in a row and will be in tough against a San Jose team that has earned 7 of a possible eight points in its last four.
Remember mid-November when everything seemed possible and the biggest question mark was whether Brock Boeser was the best rookie of 2017-18 or the best rookie of all time? Cue Green Day’s “Time of your Life.”
It’s getting ugly and we haven’t even hit the halfway point.
Look, no one expected the Canucks to play as well as they have to this point. In many respects, they have been better than anyone believed they would be at the start of this season. So we shouldn’t really complain.
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But that little taste of success made us want more. It may even have convinced some fans and, more worryingly, some in Canucks management, that this is a playoff team.
This. Is. Not. A. Playoff. Team.
The more we learn to accept this, the easier the decline will be. This is a team that is finally rebuilding and the goal isn’t to win games now, it’s to prepare to win games down the line.
To that end, Brock Boeser is the real deal, a natural scorer who will pop a lot of NHL goals in his career. Elias Pettersson looks like the best of his draft class right now and may be one of the best players in Sweden right now. Thatcher Demko is the goalie of the future and could probably compete for an NHL job right now.
So, let’s accept this losing streak gracefully, and try not to do things like yell “the Sedins are too slow” and “this team needs more sandpaper” and “we need Guddy.” We don’t.
Who’s on offence
Beyond that, there’s not been much to speak of. The Vancouver Canucks have scored five goals in their last four games. That’s ugly stuff, and at least some of the blame has to be laid at the feet of head coach Travis Green, who chose this moment to teach some of his younger players a lesson in defensive responsibility and practice habits.
Yes, despite being starved for goals, Travis Green scratched potent offensive threat Nikolay Goldobin for two games amid a lengthy lecture about the importance of the “200 foot game.”
Green went as far as to say that he didn’t want Goldobin to score 20 goals and lose games… at best, a poorly-timed remark, given the Canucks’ desperate need for 20 goals. Instead, we’ve seen ice time given to players like Brendan Gaunce, Michael Chaput, and Nic Dowd, who have 13 career goals between them.
No one knows whether Green’s disciplinary approach will improve Goldobin’s play – which by the way was not nearly as bad as you might think from the attention it has received – but many among us have our doubts. In fact, I suggested last summer that Goldobin would be a litmus test for Green’s success as a coach transitioning this team. We shall see.
What does seem clear is that the drama created by Green’s very public disciplining of the young player is not helping. An already struggling team got absolutely blown apart by the Nashville Predators and it can’t be a lot of fun to be in that locker room at the moment. Something will have to change, soon.
Who’s on defence
It’s been an up and down season for the Vancouver Canucks’ young defenders, but Derrick Pouliot, Ben Hutton, and Troy Stecher remain very important pieces going forward. What the Canucks need, and what Travis Green’s mandate should be, is for these three players to make a positive step this year.
Pouliot seems to be getting somewhere. His game has fallen off a bit lately, but he has taken strides since arriving from Pittsburgh and many believe he has become an indispensable piece of the back end. Hutton and Stecher seem to be in limbo, and while both have put together some solid games, the need for consistency is becoming apparent.
This will be even more true now that Tanev is gone with another injury. The only possible silver lining to that injury is that it means the return of Erik Gudbranson will not push one of those three young defenders out of the lineup. In the meantime, Alex Biega will likely draw into the lineup and throw a few big hits to get the crowd into it.
Who’s in Net
Anders Nilsson had a really bad night against Nashville. There were sticks broken and pucks thrown, and the coach left him out there for all seven goals. Nilsson certainly wasn’t good, and the goal he let in from centre off P.K. Subban‘s stick will haunt his nightmares for some time.
But there were also a lot of flukey bounces, a two-man breakaway, a Michael Del Zotto own-goal, and some truly ugly defensive breakdowns. Ultimately, this game was not his fault.
If it was up to me, I would go back to Nilsson and give him a chance to redeem himself. Some would argue that this is feeding him to the… sharks… because he won’t likely have an easier night against San Jose. But if I was the coach I would want to try to rebuild his confidence and remind him that he has my trust; it’s up to the players to help their goaltender and I would use that as motivation for a better effort.
Besides, neither of the Vancouver Canucks netminders are game-stealers. If the Canucks have a chance, they will need a better effort from everyone.
San Jose Sharks
Fresh off a victory in Calgary, the San Jose Sharks come into Vancouver third in the Pacific Division and looking to make some hay in a game they really should win. The Sharks are nearing the end of their window with the current core, and know they have to strike while they still can.
Playing in Vancouver has typically been good for the Sharks, who haven’t lost here since 2012. And with all of their big names finding their game again, it appears the Canucks will have their hands full.
If anything plays to the Canucks’ advantage it is that the Sharks will have less than 24 hours to recover from a close game against Calgary before hitting the ice at Rogers Arena. The first ten minutes may be critical in how the game ultimately shapes up.
Who’s on offence
Logan Couture has become the greatest driver of San Jose’s offence in the absence of Patrick Marleau. While he may not generate headlines like his bearded comrades, Couture is near the top of the NHL in scoring and is making the Sharks’ second line a nightmare for opposition defenses trying to play the match-up game. This season may end up being his arrival into the ‘elite‘ conversation.
Longtime Canuck Jannik Hansen has had a disappointing run in San Jose, and has been in and out of the lineup and given limited minutes. He may draw into a fourth line role against Vancouver, and no doubt the Rog faithful will give him a warm welcome. There was even some chatter in Vancouver about trying to bring him back, since San Jose don’t seem keen to use him. If he does get the opportunity to play on Friday, expect him to bring his A game for the hometown crowd.
Who’s on defence
Big-name defensemen have been the talk of sports radio this week after Drew Doughty rather candidly told the media that he was going to talk to Erik Karlsson in their UFA year and make sure the two of them got full value for their next contracts. It was cheeky, but he largely got away with it because he and his team are playing well. The blowback for Erik Karlsson has been difficult.
San Jose, of course, has a star defender in Brent Burns who may yet prove to be a bargain, at least in relative terms. At just (!) $8M a year, Burns remains of the NHL’s best. While he is only (!) in the top 25 in scoring for defencement this year, he will likely be near the top of that list by season’s end. And he plays 25 minutes a night.
Who’s in Net
Martin Jones has been getting the majority of starts for the Sharks, and has posted a respectable .915 sv/%. On Thursday, the Sharks gave backup Aaron Dell the start against Calgary, so it is likely that Jones, a local kid, will get the start against Vancouver.
Jones’ game seems to have found its groove this season after he was signed to a six year contract in the offseason. The Canucks will want to try to get on him early, because the Sharks’ tight defensive system will make it hard for Vancouver’s sputtering offence to get much going once the game settles in.
Canucks have not beaten this team at home since 2012. With a depleted scoring group and frustrating inconsistency from the back end, this doesn’t look like a game for the Canucks to steal.
The pain train keeps on rolling!
After being thoroughly embarrassed the last two games, the canucks put in a hard working and rebound with a win. The losing is going to end eventually, so why not now? Goldy scores against his old team and Jacob Markstrom gets the start.
Things will continue to get worse. I don’t expect as many strange bounces, but this team is going to have little effect on the Sharks. It doesn’t matter who is net right now because both goaltenders are regressing as expected. The game won’t be sloppy and much better effort will be on display, but it will be another disappointing loss in front of the fans.