Special teams not so special
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: special teams are going to make or break the Canucks this season.
So far, it’s just broken them.
The team was unable to produce anything on the man advantage for the second straight game, bringing their season success rate to 20% so far.
As has been the case all year, the first unit continues to struggle mightily, specifically with controlling the puck in the neutral zone and establishing effective offensive zone entry. Yes, the Canucks were without their quarterback specialist in Hughes, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson was able to fill in nicely, especially given how he has performed on the second unit so far.
The team was also gifted with the return of Brock Boeser, who had been sidelined with an undisclosed injury, but even The Flow wasn’t able to ignite the primary unit.
What stings the most about the powerplay so far this season is not how they underperform, but rather when. Vancouver’s first two powerplay opportunities were awarded when the game was still tied 2-2, and their third and final attempt came with over five minutes left in the contest, which is still plenty of time to mount the comeback.
At the end of the day, you can’t expect your secondary unit to carry the bulk of the powerplay expectations, which they have been so far. The top players need to be able to drag their team back into the fight, no matter the situation, but that hasn’t been the case at all this season.
And speaking of top players, we can’t mention special teams without tipping our cap to Thatcher Demko.
The 25-year-old netminder was lights out on the penalty kill, stopping every single shot he faced while his team was down a man, including a four-minute double minor. Yes, most people would argue that your netminder needs to be your best penalty killer every night, regardless of the opponent, but most teams also don’t make Buffalo’s powerplay look unexpectedly lethal and dangerous, and that’s exactly what the Canucks did on Tuesday.
To be fair, it’s only been a four-game sample size for Vancouver’s shorthanded units, which is not only littered with new faces such as Jason Dickinson and Juho Lammikko, but also missing key pieces like Sutter and Tyler Motte. However, no matter the personnel, it’s unacceptable to allow Buffalo’s powerplay to perform that well, and the team should (once again) be thanking Demko for keeping them in the battle for as long as he did.
Demko stopped 38 of 42 shots faced on Tuesday, bringing his record to 1-1-1 with a 3.18 GAA and .910 SV%.
- With the absence of Hughes, Green promoted Rathbone to the top-four defensive rotation for the first time this season. As expected, Rathbone played extremely well, registering one shot, one hit and 2 blocked shots over 18:29 of ice time. Rathbone also logged just over two minutes on the second powerplay unit, and was on the ice for half of Vancouver’s scoring chances. He and Demko were the only bright spots from an otherwise dismal game.
- Green spoke on Hughes during the post-game media availability, stating that Hughes was very close to playing on Tuesday but ultimately decided to keep him on the sidelines. The former Calder Trophy nominee has had a hectic start to the season, averaging an ice time of 27:52 over the first three contests, including 29:09 on Saturday afternoon against Detroit. Hughes’ absence was quite noticeable on Tuesday, as the team struggled to carry the puck through the neutral zone. The Canucks are hopeful that Hughes can return on Thursday.
- Horvat’s goal marked the 140th of his career, all in a Vancouver sweater. He now sits 15th all-time in Canucks history, ahead of Alexander Mogilny. Daniel Sedin currently holds the title with 393.
- Prior to Tuesday’s puck-drop, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that the province will be getting rid of capacity limits for indoor events, meaning that the Canucks can have 100% attendance at Rogers Arena for the team’s home-opener on Tuesday.
The Canucks will continue their road trip on Thursday night with a match-up against Marc-Andre Fleury and the winless Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop is set for 5:30pm PST.
What were your thoughts from Tuesday’s letdown in Buffalo? Make sure to drop a comment below!