When your stars are not performing to their usual standards, in most cases you know you have a problem. Despite their current situation, the Vancouver Canucks have a very good group of defensemen, from NHL All-Star Alex Edler to veteran Sami Salo to cool, calm and collected Chris Tanev. However, these stars have been making “bantam level” mistakes and the past few games have been riddled with odd-man rushes, bad pinches and inconsistent D-zone coverage.
“You always have to be concerned when you keep repeating the same mistakes the way we have the past few games,” Sami Salo told The Province of the many odd-man rushes against.
As some of the forwards have been struggling lately as well, the defense gets little help from the forwards when they pinch. For example, when the Canucks played the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday, a bad pinch by Canuck Dan Hamhuis allowed Coyote Shane Doan to score and tie up the game on a two-on-one rush.
At this point in the season, the coaching staff is doing everything they can to solve these issues before the playoffs. Coach Alain Vigneault shuffled the defense pairings against Phoenix and continued to switch things up on Thursday in practice. Against Phoenix, Hamhuis was paired with Chris Tanev, Kevin Bieksa with Alex Edler and Sami Salo with Marc-Andre Gragnani. However, on Thursday, only Bieksa and Edler remained together while Hamhuis was paired with Salo and Tanev was paired with Aaron Rome, who replaced Gragnani.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with new partners,” Hamhuis told the Vancouver Sun about odd-man rushes against. “Maybe some defensive-zone stuff are partner issues. I think we just made some bad reads.”
Yes, everyone watching the latest Canucks games think their defense has been making some bad reads. Bieksa thinks that their recent schedule has contributed to their slump, as they spent almost all of February on the road and have had a lot of games.
“I just think we’re getting a little bit mentally lazy. But that’s just from playing so much in such a short span,” he told The Province.
Alex Edler is one player who has really struggled lately. In a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens last week, Edler was minus-2, did not register a hit and was the man in the penalty box during a Canadiens’ power play goal. Vigneault spoke out about him after that game saying, “I don’t know where he is right now.” Edler, who apparently did not hear that comment responded saying, “But I know myself where my game has to be and I don’t really need anything to be said to me. I realize that myself.”
Bieksa, despite being on pace for one of his best NHL season point wise, was a minus-3 against Phoenix, playing one of his worst games of the season. That was the first time he has been minus-3; all his other games he has been minus-2 or better.
However, the Canucks have been able to analyze their games by looking at the scoring chances. By analyzing each defense by where they were on the ice during goals both for and against, the team is able to figure out where the problems lie.
“When we analyze them for and against and see our top four Ds in the minus category, as they have lately, it tells us that we have to try something,” Vigneault told The Province before the Canucks’ game against Phoenix on Wednesday.
“You want to correct some of the problems and get on the same page moving forward,” Bieksa told The Province. “Because it’s dangerous going in to the playoffs, especially in the position we’re in. The lowest we’re going to finish is second, so we’ll play either the seventh or eight seed – and those will probably be two of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs making those spots, so we’ve got to be ready for them.”
The fact that the Canucks are able to figure out what they are doing wrong makes the situation a bit more bearable. Hamhuis mentioned that this slump is forcing the defense, as well as the goaltenders, to assess themselves and fix their mistakes before playoffs.
“I think he’s got to be better and we’ve got to be better – everyone’s got to be better,” Bieksa told the Vancouver Sun of Roberto Luongo, as goaltending has been an issue as well. “We’re not winning games, so it’s everybody. We’re not a team that points fingers and blames one guy or two guys. It’s defense, forwards, goalie. We’ll get out of this together.”