It was freakishly loud and seemingly electric until the LA Kings scored. Rogers Arena was silenced. Fans would start a “Leafs suck” chant, maybe to take their minds off what was happening on the ice, but the tension in the arena was obvious. Two home games into round one and the Vancouver Canucks are down two games to the Kings.
Newspapers and news stations throughout British Columbia are full of examples of other teams who have come back from losing the first two games of a series in the hopes of raising the spirits of the people of Vancouver. The task the Canucks have in front of them is not impossible. Boston did it twice last year, down two games to Montreal in the first round and down two games to Vancouver in the final round.
But as Jannik Hansen put it on Friday, talking to the Vancouver Sun, “A loss is still a loss” – and the mess the Canucks are in is not pretty. There are several things they need to improve on if they want to win this series, especially since it looks like LA is going to keep fighting until the end.
A huge issue the Canucks have is with special teams. In game one they struggled on the penalty kill, giving up eight penalties, one of which was a five minute major. They also had to defend two 5-on-3s. Then in game two it was the power play, which is now 0-for-10 in this series for the Canucks. The Kings scored two shorthanded goals in game two, both by Dustin Brown. So not only are the Kings 3-for-12 on the power play against the Canucks, they have also found a way to produce while on the penalty kill.
On the power play the Canucks had trouble breaking into the Kings’ end, and were constantly shut down as soon as they reached the blue line. Daniel Sedin would be a huge help at this point, but it was recently confirmed that he would not join the Canucks in LA for games three and four because of his concussion. What does this mean? The Canucks will have to find a way to succeed without him, otherwise their season will be over sooner than they want it to be. Hockey is a team sport after all, and success should not depend on the status of one person.
Many of the Kings’ goals have been scored as a result of bad defending. A giveaway by Alex Edler led to the first LA goal on Friday and a bad pinch by Dan Hamhuis led to a shorthanded breakaway, which also ended up in goal. In fact, Edler played what could be one of his worst games of the season on Friday, with none of his fellow defence looking much better. They have been making elementary defence mistakes, such as with Hamhuis’ pinch, and the lack of coverage in front of the net has led to players from the Kings standing wide open, ready to receive a pass and score.
The Canucks also struggled with giveaways, many which resulted from failed drop passes, something which was not seen in their practice at Rogers Arena on Saturday. Edler led the team with three in game one and Henrik Sedin with five in game two.
At times it seems like the Canucks are panicking, which Sammy Pahlsson, a Stanley Cup veteran, knows is not the key to success.
“I think the big thing is to not panic,” he told the Vancouver Sun. “Everyone wants to win so badly, and now that we’ve lost two it’s easy to panic and just try to do it yourself. That’s not how you win games. You have to do it as a team. We have to try to play our game, and not try something else because it’s not working. We knew they were a good team. We knew they had a good defence and a good goaltender. But we’re making mistakes and that won them the game today.”
Discipline is a factor as well, with the multiple penalties the Canucks took. Yes, the officiating was not as straightforward and fair as some would like, but the Canucks cannot afford to let that get to them.
“We’ve got to be more disciplined,” Max Lapierre told Canucks.com after game one, “but we cannot stop playing our physical game too, so we’re going to have to find the fine line. We’ve got to keep being physical, the ref has the last call and if he calls it a penalty, that means it was a penalty.”
Maybe the Canucks were too physical in game one. In the first shift of the game, David Booth started off his first NHL playoff game with a giant hit, and the Canucks made their physical presence known. Lapierre led the team with six hits in game one and again led with six hits in game two alongside Booth and Alex Burrows. Unfortunately, Byron Bitz was suspended two games for a boarding major on Kyle Clifford, as he tryed to show that this Canucks’ team will not be pushed around.
“I had no intention of targeting the head or injuring anybody, that’s not the way I play,” he told the Vancouver Sun. “It was an unfortunate play, the referees made the call and it cost our team a goal. It’s my fault. It’s tough. The way I play, I have to finish my hits and the play happened and the refs made the call and it cost our team a goal, so I don’t feel very good about it.”
Special teams, defence and discipline. Those are the problems that stand in the Canucks’ way of winning this series. So enough of the negative, what did the Canucks do well?
First off, Roberto Luongo has been playing like a god. He has been making huge saves and has looking solid in net, not breaking down when the rest of his team has. Head coach Alain Vigneault said on Friday that goaltending is not the issue. He knows who he will play on Sunday and if it is Cory Schneider, that will only be to shake things up and hopefully bring change that will impact the rest of the team to play well. However, the thought that the Canucks can only perform well with Schneider in net is unnerving.
However, some forwards have stepped up and made their presence felt. Ryan Kesler, although not in the same ‘beastmode’ he was in against Nashville last year, has been one of the best forwards for the Canucks. He had two assists in game one and in game two produced six shots and four takeaways in 22:52 minutes of ice time, the highest among all Canucks forwards and third highest on the team.
Hansen, despite taking a double minor for roughing and a game misconduct in game two has also played very well. He scored the first goal for the Canucks to tie the game on Friday and was one of three Canucks players with a plus-1. Pahlsson, who also scored, and Zack Kassian were the other two.
Burrows, who scored on his own birthday in game one, moved into 13th place all-time in Canucks scoring and continued what was a six game point streak. However, those numbers mean nothing to him if his team is not winning.
“I could care less about scoring goals,” he told Canucks.com, “it’s about wins this time of year.”
The Canucks have definitely put the pressure on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who faced 48 shots on Friday. When they screen Quick and get lots of bodies in front they are successful, and managed to tie the game up in both game one and game two, until the Kings got the upper hand.
Now the Canucks head into enemy territory for game three on Sunday. According to Hamhuis, they have the confidence that they were the best road team in the league, and they have to use that to their advantage.
“You have to put these games behind you. Whether we win or lose, this game is done with, so we move on,” Kevin Bieksa told the Vancouver Sun. “It will be a big must-win that next game in LA, and that is our focus right now.”