Defensive Doldrums

The Canucks’ season has been a deceptive one so far. A 6-game winning streak and an extra hot third line swept under the rug some of the biggest problems the Canucks have been having this season. One of the biggest problems the Canucks have faced this season has been injury, a problem that has also plagued the defense in previous seasons. With the injury to Sami Salo, more responsibility was placed on the rest of the Canucks defense, newcomers and returning vets alike. The problem however doesn’t lie in their acceptance of responsibility and response as a result. The defense as a single unit has looked fragmented all season and it’s clear a lack of chemistry is frustrating them.

Newcomers Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard were coming into a new system, one that’s chewed up and spit out defensemen before. Alain Vigneault has a defensive system that is based on trust and team play. The defensemen in it have to rely on their partner and the players have to buy into the system working. The Canucks have brought in defensemen before that have attempted to learn the system. Shane O’Brien comes to mind, and more recently, Andrew Alberts struggled to fit into the Alain Vigneault model. The system takes time to learn and to adapt to. We’ve seen that in his tenure as coach and it’s no surprise Hamhuis and Ballard are taking a little longer to get comfortable. It doesn’t help that Hamhuis’ foot injury set him back and looks like it still is effecting his play and that Ballard can’t catch a break between hip surgery, a concussion and now the flu.

The Canucks’ defense has been offensively powered almost singlehandedly by Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff. Alberts has a couple points and Kevin Bieksa has been nearly invisible. That said, offense isn’t the primary concern of the defense right now. As a unit they’ve seen so many different defensive pairings this year that it’s hard for them to have built any chemistry. The Canucks have dressed nine defensemen this year and with injuries to Ballard, Hamhuis and Parent the combination of defensive pairings has switched nightly, and perhaps not surprisingly, they’ve sometimes looked awkward and out of place when they step on the ice. The most consistent pair we’ve seen this season has been the Ehrhoff-Edler combination but even they got separated at times during this recent losing skid.

It’s time for Vigneault to start coaching and creating that cohesion and chemistry in his blueliners. It’s probably a positive sign that he’s now willing to let the group play together a bit.

“It’s not just him (Ballard), but I’d like our whole team to get together a little bit here,” Vigneault said. “I’m hoping to put a couple of strings together of games where guys start to feel a little bit more comfortable with themselves.”

Let’s hope they do.

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