Diminished Defense Corps Hurting Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks’ third period against the Dallas Stars Thursday night can be summarized in one word – horrendous.

After opening the scoring and then finishing the second period tied 1-1, the Canucks surrendered four unanswered goals to the Stars in the third period. This loss marked the end of a five game road trip in which they went 2-2-1, losing a game to Colorado last Saturday through another third period breakdown and losing in a shootout to St. Louis on Tuesday. However, this game against Dallas is by far the worst game the Canucks have played in April, if not longer. It marked the first time goaltender Cory Schneider has allowed five goals since the opening game of the season.

“Very frustrating,” Schneider told canucks.com of the Canucks’ third period meltdown. “It’s just happening too much lately and it’s all preventable. We’re just making casual plays or we’re not being hard enough on the puck or hard enough on our plays. We’re just giving them looks right down the middle. It’s up to me to make some of those saves, to come up with a big stop here and keep it at one or keep it at two and give our team a chance, but that’s not the way we want to play the game in the third period.”

This game proved one thing for certain – the Canucks need Chris Tanev and Kevin Bieksa back in the line up.

While the Canucks won their next game on Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings, they were severely out shot, surrendering 34 shots while only peppering the Red Wings with 14; another reflection on the Canucks’ diminished defense corps.

Tanev has been out of the line up since suffering an ankle injury on April 9th against the Calgary Flames. Bieksa has now missed three games, flying home from the Canucks’ five game road trip early to recuperate from a groin injury. Cam Barker and Andrew Alberts have taken their place. Barker played alongside Edler until the disaster in Dallas; Alberts played alongside Edler against Detroit.

The Canucks’ current top six defenders do not seem like a group of top six defenders who can get the Canucks through the playoffs. Even the three most dependable defenders on the ice, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison and Edler, have struggled; Edler was -3 against Dallas and Hamhuis is leading the Canucks in giveaways with 31.

“Once we got down, we started playing a little bit loose and taking chances,” Hamhuis told the Vancouver Sun of Thursday’s game against Dallas. “We don’t need to do that. If we stick with our game and system, we have a better chance of winning. To give up that many goals in the third period in an important game, we’re all pretty disappointed and frustrated to let that happen.”

Besides letting down their guard, the Canucks’ defense have been too undisciplined. Alberts took ten penalty minutes against Dallas and Keith Ballard, who was paired with Alberts in Dallas and Barker against Detroit, tried to pick a fight with St. Louis Blue David Backes Tuesday night, before Alex Burrows got involved and pulled Backes away. Ballard then actually got into a fight against Detroit Red Wing Justin Abdelkader Saturday night, resulting in seven penalty minutes. He then left the game in the third period with an undisclosed injury. Ballard needs to play alongside calm and collected players such as Tanev. Earlier in the season, these two were possibly the Canucks best and most consistent defense pairing, and Ballard stayed away from the skirmishes and the penalty box. However, if Ballard has to play alongside and take care of the even less consistent and experienced Alberts and Barker, it seems that it is harder for him to remain composed and effectively contribute to the team’s success. Ballard only played 8:53 minutes against Detroit.

In Dallas, the defense also struggled with defensive zone coverage. On Dallas’ first goal, Alberts drifted out of position, allowing Vernon Fiddler to skate in unmarked and score. Dallas had players wide open by the crease to pick up rebounds and out skated the Canucks defense, who at times seemed to be standing still. With all the Canucks’ turnovers and giveaways, they were practically setting up Dallas’ goals for them. Another Dallas goal happened because of miscommunication between Burrows and Ballard at the Canucks’ blue line.

“If you want to win in the playoffs, you’ve got to protect leads,” Schneider told the Vancouver Sun. “And right now, we’re not as good as we should be at it and what we expect of ourselves. This was a team the past few years, when we got a lead, it was game over. Whether it’s me coming up with some big saves in the third to preserve it or us as a group just playing harder, we’ve got to find a way.” That way might have to be an improvement from the defense.

Garrison has played well throughout the outbreak of Canuck injuries, but needs the other players around him to step it up a notch if this team wants to see success in the post-season. The Canucks may have clinched a playoff spot on Saturday against Detroit, but once again have a gaping hole on defense with the absence of Tanev and Bieksa.

“Two years ago, we ran away with the league,” said Schneider. “We played every game hard and set all sorts of records for the franchise, and it carried into the playoffs. We didn’t need to try to get to that next level; we were there all season. Again, I think this group should know how to (reach that level) on a regular basis and not just decide to pick it up for certain games and at certain points.”

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