[Every week, Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]
The Canucks head out for a 4-game road trip this week. After a lacklustre 3-4 homestand, including this past week’s 5-4 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, in which they blew an early 2-goal lead, and 4-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the game against the Blue Jackets, the Canucks got off to a slow start, but fueled by the fans, who were loud and involved throughout the game, they turned it around and won thanks to some stellar play by the AMEX line, a couple of goals by Daniel Sedin and a Bobby Orr-like rush and goal by Alex Edler.
71 GP, 43-20-8, 94 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)
After seemingly taking a while to get back into his groove after his knee injury, David Booth is currently riding a 3-game point streak (2G-1A-3P).
Speaking of which, Booth shed some light on his knee injury on Saturday. He told Scott Oake that it was more serious than thought, and that he actually fractured his knee, which resulted in a longer recovery time.
Well, his hard work looks to be paying off and Booth has nicely complemented Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins on the AMEX line.
Since shutting out the St. Louis Blues in the 1st game of the Canucks’ 7-game homestand, Roberto Luongo has lost his last 4 starts. In those 4 games, he allowed 16 goals on 103 shots (0.844 save %).
While it’s easy to point the finger squarely at Luo, Canucks Nation needs to remember that the team in front of him has not played up to par in the last couple of months. No one is denying that he’s let in a few soft goals, but it’s not completely fair to place the blame for the not-so-successful homestand on him; he is the scapegoat far too often. In fact, before this homestand, Luo was the primary reason the Canucks have been able to stay near the top of the NHL standings; since sitting out the Boston game to the start of the homestand, he had a 10-3-4 record in 17 games and posted a 0.929 save %.
Monday, March 19, 2012 vs. Minnesota Wild (5:00 PM start, away)
It’s hard to believe that the Minnesota Wild was leading almost halfway through the season. But after a 20-7-3 start, the Wild’s season has taken a turn for the worse. They’ve won just 9 games of their last 41 games – a 9-25-7 record – and now sit 14 points out of a playoff spot and in 28th place in the league. Their current losing streak is at 3 games and they have a 1-6-1 record in March.
This will be the 6th and final meeting between the two teams; Vancouver has won 4 of the previous 5 matchups.
In the season series, Daniel Sedin has feasted on the Wild this season with 10 points (3G-7A) to lead all skaters. Devin Setoguchi leads the Wild with 4 points (2G-2A).
Dany Heatley is leading the Wild in goals (20) and points (46) this season. However, he is also on pace for his worst season offensively, not including the 2003-2004 season where he only played 31 games.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 vs. Chicago Blackhawks (5:00 PM start, away)
One of the greatest rivalries in the NHL will resume at the Madhouse on Madison as the Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks meet for the final time in the regular season. The Canucks lead the season series with 2 wins in their first 3 games. They have an 11-6-2 record against Central Division opponents this season.
Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goals for the Hawks in their only win against the Canucks back on November 16. Henrik Sedin leads the Canucks with 6 points (1G-5A).
Marian Hossa leads the Hawks in assists (42) and points (70). He’s recorded at least a point in 7 of his last 9 games (4G-7A-11P) and has 18 points (8G-10A) in his last 17 games.
Thursday, March 22, 2012 vs. Dallas Stars (5:30 PM start, away)
The Dallas Stars are currently on a 2-game losing streak, though prior to that, they went 10-0-1. They currently lead the Pacific Division – 1 point ahead of the San Jose Sharks – and sit in 3rd place in the Western Conference.
They’ve had a lot of success against Northwest Division opponents this season, posting a 12-3-0 record against them so far. This will be the 3rd meeting between the Canucks and Stars in just over 3 weeks with the Stars having won both previous meetings, including a decisive 5-2 win in their last meeting at Rogers Arena.
Mike Ribeiro leads all skaters in the season series with 5 points (3G-2A); Chris Higgins leads the Canucks with 4 points (1G-3A).
Loui Eriksson has 7 goals and 8 assists in his last 12 games. He leads the Stars in assists (40), points (65), and also has a team best plus-20 rating.
Saturday, March 24, 2012 vs. Colorado Avalanche (7:00 PM start, away)
Somewhat unexpectedly, the Colorado Avalanche are making a strong push for the post-season. Since acquiring Steve Downie from the Tampa Bay Lightning, they have a 10-3-1 record, including at least a point in their last 5 games (4-0-1). They currently sit in 7th place in a very competitive Western Conference, though teams below them have games in hand so anything can happen in their remaining 8 games.
The Avalanche will look for their first win against the Canucks this season. The boys in blue have dominated the season series, winning the first 4 games of the season series by a combined 15-3 score. Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo each have a shutout against the Avs.
Rookie Gabriel Landeskog leads the Avs with 21 goals and is tied for second in points (47); he also has the best plus/minus rating on the team (plus-20).
One game does not represent an entire NHL season.
But Washington’s 5-0 loss to Carolina Monday night was another of the growing number of nails being hammered into the coffin laying rest to the Washington Capitals – 2011-12 edition.
Make no mistake, this Washington team is taking after Monty Python’s dead parrot – it’s bereft of life, destined to rest in peace.
And to think just 24 months ago this was a team destined to transform and dominate the NHL landscape.
There are two reasons why the juggernaut Washington Capitals of 2009-10 have transformed into a Cinderella-sized pumpkin.
The Little Reason: Injuries to their core players
Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games in the 2009-10 season. In the two seasons since, Green has played just 61 regular season games total. He is the straw that stirs the Washington attack, and he’s been MIA for most of the last two seasons.
This year, the team’s number #1 centre – Nicklas Backstrom – has missed significant time due to a concussion. The drop-off in talent from Backstrom to Marcus Johansson is the equivalent of leaving Charlize Theron to date Mayim Bialik.
Other than Alex Ovechkin, these are the team’s two best, most dynamic players. Without them it’s a no brainer the Capitals have struggled more.
The Big Reason: GM George McPhee abandoned his plan
The 2009-10 Capitals were having fun tearing up the league on their way to a 121-point season. They were the “go-go” Capitals, featuring seven 20+ goal scorers.
Flash forward to today, and the Capitals will be lucky to have four 20-goal scorers.
2009-10 Capitals 20-goal scorers:
2011-12 Capitals 20-goal scorers (on pace):
Where did the offense go?
It was left in Montreal during the Spring of 2010.
That seven game loss to the Canadiens was devastating to the Capitals front office, who expected nothing less than a championship run that year.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how the Capitals lost the series after being up three-games-to-one:
1) They were a young team (younger than the team that lost to Pittsburgh the year before). Inexperienced playoff teams are extremely suspect to the whims of momentum (both positive and negative).
2) Confidence is a major factor in the success of special teams, and the Capitals just didn’t have it in their powerplay (1-for-33 in the series). This meant the Habs could take penalties without punishment.
3) Montreal employed a passive trap when they had the lead, which confounded coach Bruce Boudreau.
4) Montreal paid extra-special attention to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom defensively, challenging the rest of the Capitals to create offense.
5) Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak put on the greatest playoff goaltending performance since Patrick Roy in 1992-93, if not longer.
Given the above, the steps that had to be taken to get the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final were clear:
1) Find some playoff experience to add to the dressing room.
2) Count on better luck (Halak-esque performances don’t happen every year).
3) Support coach Boudreau in figuring out how to beat the trap.
4) Find an impact second-line centre to take the pressure off of Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Instead, General Manager George McPhee went in the opposite direction, abandoning the style of play he’d built the team on for one that put a priority on defensive accountability.
It’s been downhill ever since.
The 2010-11 Capitals racked up 107 points but their goals per game rate fell more than a full goal (-1.09). A distance emerged between the team’s run-and-gun – and best – player (Ovechkin) and its coach. Talented Tomas Fleischmann was shipped out for the blueline carcass known as Scott Hannan.
Come playoff time, Washington was swept by another trapping team, this time the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. But unlike during the Montreal series (where Washington generated scoring chances to no avail), the Capitals went meekly into the off-season, and with little offensive push back.
This past summer, GM George McPhee doubled-down on his defensive bet. He added Tomas Vokoun to play goal, and brought in Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik to bring size and grit to the team.
What none of these players do is create offense on their own.
And, for the first part of the 2011-12 season, they couldn’t stop a puck either. Vokoun got off to a poor start, and despite his team out-shooting and out-chancing the opposition, Bruce Boudreau was fired.
The hiring of Dale Hunter was the last bit of “defensive desperation” to come out of the Washington front office. As discussed last week, Hunter’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach has stifled what creativity has remained in the Capitals attack.
The transformation of this team from “go-go” to “no-go” is now complete.
Today the Washington Capitals are in a desperate fight for their playoff lives. It didn’t have to be this way.
If Capitals fans should blame anyone, it’s GM George McPhee.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]
Heading into tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the Vancouver Canucks have gone to extra-time in their last 5 games (winning 4 of them) and in 8 of their last 10 (7-1-2 record). Through it all, they’ve amassed 16 out of a possible 20 points, making them the hottest team in the Western Conference despite winning just one game in regulation over that span. That alone is something to make you go hmmm! Alas, I’ve also found a few more:
1. What happened to the forward depth? For those who argue that this year’s Canucks team is better than last year’s, they point to the depth at the forward position as the primary reason. David Booth and Cody Hodgson have bolstered the top 9, giving the Canucks four decent lines when everyone is going (paging Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen). However, the Canucks will be facing a formidable challenge if captain Henrik Sedin is out for any considerable length of time (his status was undetermined at the time of this writing). Add to that the recurring staph infection-related issues of Chris Higgins, and suddenly the Canucks are without two of their top six forwards.
This means a couple of things. Firstly, coach Alain Vigneault will once again have to use his line juggling blender to concoct some new combinations. It likely means more ice-team for rookie Cody Hodgson, which will be music to many people’s ears. And the recently-maligned and aforementioned Raymond and Hansen will have a golden opportunity to dig themselves out of their respective funks.
As of this writing, the Canucks had not called anyone up from the Chicago Wolves. But if they do, don’t expect it to be veteran Steven Reinprecht as he’ll likely get claimed through re-entry waivers. I think the Canucks should give 2009 first-round pick Jordan Schroeder a look. He is third on the Wolves in scoring and he would slot into a top-9 role with his nifty skating. He also had a decent preseason and didn’t look out of place in scoring 3 points. But then again, so did Marco Sturm.
2. Get Booth out for the shootout. With 5 of the last 7 games ending in a shootout (including the last 3) and 7 shootout games already in 2012, it’s obvious how important these points are in the ultra-tight Western Conference. Surprisingly, the Canucks have done well in the 2012 shootouts, winning four of those seven contests. Recently, Roberto Luongo has looked better in the shootout, trading in his belly-flop for a calmer, deeper-in-the-crease approach.
It’s a good thing, because he’s certainly not getting a lot of help from the Vancouver shooters. In the 2012 shootouts, the Canucks have gone 7-for-23 for a percentage of 30%. That’s not particularly good, but it’s not surprising given the career shootout stats of the Canucks. As Daniel Wagner of Pass it to Bulis pointed out earlier this week, Vancouver doesn’t have anyone close to 50% (except for Andrew Ebbett but he’s taken a total of 2 shootout attempts, scoring on one of them). Alex Burrows is at 43.8%, Maxim Lapierre is 42.9% and the rest of the players are 33% or below. In the 2012 shootouts, the 7 Canucks goals have come from Alex Edler (2-for-3), Burrows (2-for-4), Raymond (2-for-6) and Hodgson (1-for-4).
Why not try David Booth in the shootout? His career stats aren’t great (2-for-10) but he hasn’t had a chance yet this season. He’s a very quick skater and thus has the ability to at least have the goalie guessing. He’s put up seasons of 31 goals, 23 goals, and 22 goals in the past proving that he can score. And he’s played well since coming back from his injury. Plus, he can do this:
3. Tim Thomas doesn’t like Barack Obama. The Boston Bruins have won only 2 of the 6 games they’ve played since visiting the White House without goaltender Tim Thomas back on January 23rd. Granted, it’s not the largest sample size, but it certainly qualifies as a mini-slump. At the time, the Bruins tried to downplay the incident but it set off a firestorm in hockey circles. Now, Tim Thomas is at it again, this time posting on his Facebook page, “I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom” in response to Obama’s move to have all health insurance plans provide birth control to women (a plan that has Catholic hospitals, charities and schools up in arms).
This isn’t the time and place to get into the specifics of Obama’s proposal for health-care reform. However, as both a Catholic and a Canucks fan I find this whole situation quite fascinating. I’ve been a fan of Thomas for a few years now (for his playing style and not necessarily for his personal and political views), even if he was the main obstacle to the Canucks winning the Stanley Cup last June. It will be interesting to see how much his latest statement serves as a distraction to his team at a time where they need to turn their game around.