As everyone is aware of by now, the Vancouver Canucks lost game five to the L.A. Kings on Sunday night and sealed their fate for the 2011-2012 season. The loss was the Canucks’ third consecutive defeat at home in these playoffs. With the win, the Kings moved on to the second round in a matchup against the St. Louis Blues.
With their season on the line, the Canucks played a decent game for the first 40 minutes. They received four power plays through that timeframe, and their once-dominant power play looked good and earned a goal when Henrik Sedin converted a beautiful saucer pass from brother Daniel at the 14 minute mark of the first period.
While it’s been their worst period for most of the series, the Canucks had a great second period, controlling play and hemming the Kings in their zone on a number of occasions. However, in what ended up becoming a familiar refrain, they were unable to beat Kings’ outstanding netminder Jonathan Quick. Their best chance to go up by two came when Daniel Sedin went in on Quick on a breakaway, but shot it into his right pad.
The game turned in the Kings favour in the third period. Knowing they needed a tremendous effort to eliminate the Canucks, the Kings turned it up big time, and outshot the Canucks 13-9 in the final period. The Kings broke through and tied the game at 3:21 of the third, as Kings’ fourth liner Brad Richardson tapped the puck home from the crease, while three Canucks stood around and watched. For the balance of the period, the Kings poured it on, but were unable to get any more pucks past Cory Schneider and the game went to overtime.
It was more of the same during the overtime, and the Canucks season came crashing to an end just four minutes in when Trevor Lewis tapped the puck off Dan Hamhuis’ stick at the blue line, which created a two on one. Jarret Stoll snapped the puck into the top corner over Schneider’s shoulder, and the Canucks were done.
The spectacular nature in which the Canucks lost this game, and the series, was a fitting end to their season. For most of the year, the team played with a certain air of indifference, presumably saving themselves for the playoffs. However, once the playoffs arrived, they were not up to the task, especially when their backs were against the wall (Canucks Army had the scoring chances in the third period and overtime as 16-4 in favour of the team from southern California). There are a great many reasons why this may have been the case, and I will be delving into those reasons in the coming days as we dissect what exactly happened to this team, and what they should do in the offseason to get the themselves back to where they need to be.
- I have a ton of conflicting thoughts about the Canucks’ performance in this series and I’m quite frankly a bit shocked that I’m writing this blog at this stage.
- There were a number of constants through the series. One was the fact that Jonathan Quick was absolutely astounding in net for the Kings – he came as advertised. That said, the Canucks did an extremely poor job of getting the puck into dangerous scoring areas, as evidenced by their meager scoring chance numbers, especially in the first three games of the series. The Canucks only managed eight goals in the five games.
- The Kings did the same things that the Bruins did last season successfully, which was crowding around the net and just not allowing the Canucks’ offense to put their goalies in bad positions. The Kings, however, did it without the benefit of dirty play and cheap shots, after whistle scrums, etc.
- Given the improvement in the power play and scoring chances in games four and five, one must wonder if the Canucks would have been able to pull out at least one, if not two, of the first three games if Daniel had been in the lineup. Without him, it caused a cascading effect on the rest of the lineup and coach Alain Vigneault didn’t press the right buttons, as none of his combinations clicked.
- Vigneault was grasping at straws by the end of the series, icing line combinations that had never even practiced before. This was with the benefit of the final ten games of the year to tinker and experiment in Daniel’s absence.
- I try to stay away from kitschy phrases such as “compete level”, but the Kings really appeared to have more heart and desire than did the Canucks. They were skating harder, seemed to win a lot of races to loose pucks, and more often than not won puck battles. In a complete role reversal for the Canucks, they just had no answer when the Kings turned it up at various points in the series.
- It’s concerning to me that the Canucks’ were so bad in some key moments in the series. Down three games to none, the Canucks were absolutely horrid in the first period of game four – only brilliance from Cory Schneider kept them in the game. The same can be said of the third period of game five – with their season literally on the line, the Canucks were dominated. They just didn’t want it as bad.
- There will obviously be a ton of discussion around the goaltending situation, especially after the press conference and player availability with the media today and Roberto Luongo’s comments. That said – for once, goaltending was not an issue in this series. Both Luongo and Schneider were excellent and they certainly didn’t cost the team the series.
- The Canucks really lost their way in game one. The lack of discipline, the bad penalties, the yapping at the officials and the other team, and worst of all, the diving. It’s concerning that this was how the team reacted as they embarked on their playoff journey. It wasn’t just one player either. They played much better after that game, but it makes one pause to wonder why this would occur.
- Coming into the series, when I previewed the series, I graded the Canucks as slightly better than the Kings in almost every area. As it turned out, however, the Kings were slightly better in all those areas. The top six forwards basically eliminated each other, but the Kings’ bottom six turned out to be much better than advertised and outplayed the Canucks’ depth forwards. In addition, their defense played very well and while the Canucks’ back end had its moments, it had failures at key moments and the Kings generally made them pay. Finally, the goaltending was good on both sides, but Quick was just a bit better than were Luongo/Schneider. As a result, the Kings ended up winning the series with relative ease.
- In addition, I really feel that Darryl Sutter outcoached Vigneault in the series. The Kings appeared much more prepared and ready to do battle.
- The Canucks lost all three home games in this series. This is surprising, considering how good the team has been at home over the last couple of years.
- In considering the bottom six forwards, the acquisition of Sammy Pahlsson was meant to provide a top-flight checking line that would allow one of the Canucks’ top two lines to flourish in matchups against bottom six forwards on the opponent. However, after game one when Mike Richards and Jeff Carter ate up Pahlsson’s line, Vigneault had to move Kesler’s line into that role. This, of course, turned Kesler’s line into a high-end checking line, leaving very few scoring options. With Daniel out of the lineup, that was a killer for the Canucks. Kesler will be blamed for a lack of production, but he was in on three of the Canucks’ eight goals, and he did neutralize Richards in games two through five.
- The Canucks received subpar efforts from key players. Most notably, Ryan Kesler and Alex Edler had poor performances and they were not the difference makers they needed to be. Considering Kesler was the Selke winner last year, and Edler was an All-Star this year, they are supposed to be elite players. They didn’t play like it, and it cost the team.
- Overall, I feel like the Canucks’ knowledge of what it would take to get to the Cup finals again actually worked against them. I question their desire to go through it again, on a subconscious level. I believe that because they knew how hard it would be, the continued their regular season penchant for trying to do “just enough to win” – but it backfired. You can’t look past any opponent in this era of the NHL. The Canucks appeared to do just that, and in the end it cost them, dearly.
WHERE DOES THE TEAM GO FROM HERE?
There are a number of issues to assess and discuss as the team moves forward. A number of these issues have been discussed in the media, and today’s season-end press conference held by GM Mike Gillis raised a number of other issues. I’ll be writing some blogs over the coming days discussing some of the following questions:
- What is the future of Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault?
- How is the chemistry in the room and does the team need to make changes to its leadership or its core?
- Why did the team appear so disinterested throughout most of the regular season, and why were they unable to change that once the playoffs arrived?
- Do the Canucks have an identity, or did they lose it during the course of the season?
- What should the Canucks’ style of play be, given the changes that have occurred in the NHL over the course of the season? Are those changes permanent, or are we merely witnessing some anomalous trends?
- What should the Canucks do with their goaltending situation?
- The Cody Hodgson trade – what was really going on, and did Gillis do the right thing considering the circumstances?
As this is the last game (or series) review this season, I’d like to thank my readership, it’s been a pleasure writing on the team this year and bringing my views to you.
Stay tuned, Canucks fans. There are a lot of issues to consider and discuss in the coming weeks, and it promises to be one of the most interesting offseasons in recent memory for Canucks Nation. It’s going to be wild ride and I look forward to bringing you my take on what should be done and on what actually occurs.