“It’s still early.” That’s the phrase running through the heads of frustrated Vancouver Canucks fans at the present time. Despite a promising roster — at least on paper — the Canucks have struggled through the first six games of the 2020-21 regular season.
The team has won a mere two games thus far, landing them in the sixth spot (out of seven) in the Scotia North Division. They have a goal differential of -10, the second-worst in the league. Contributing to that goal differential have been two hat-tricks by their opponents: one from Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and one from Montreal’s Tyler Toffoli. If the Canucks want to build on last year’s success, some things need to change fast. Here are a few things to fix if the Canucks are going to get anywhere this year.
Elias Pettersson Needs to Find His Mojo
We’ve seen this with Brock Boeser, and now we’re seeing it with Elias Pettersson. After a year or two of high-calibre success in the NHL, the Canucks’ rookies seem to temporarily take a step down. Luckily, Boeser seems to have taken a turn for the better this season, with four goals and five points through six games. Pettersson, however, has a mere assist through the same amount of games.
Whether it’s that there were no exhibition games, or perhaps that there was limited ice time available this off-season, Pettersson doesn’t look like the Calder Trophy winner that enamored Canucks fans just two years ago. In order for the Canucks to turn things around, he has to turn his game around.
The Powerplay Needs to Put the Puck in the Net… The Other Team’s Net!
Last year, the Canucks scored on 24.3% of their powerplays — good for 4th in the league. So far this year, they rank 20th, capitalizing on 15.4% of their man-advantage situations.
The return of J.T. Miller has definitely helped, as they didn’t score a single powerplay goal through the three games he missed, but have potted four in the three games since his return. In Thursday’s game against Montreal, they allowed two short-handed goals, and, frankly, they were lucky it was just two. Thatcher Demko bailed his teammates out on several occasions, meaning the Habs could’ve had a few more shorties. If the Canucks are going to get out of this slump, they’ll need to do much better on the powerplay.
Oh boy, where do we start? You can’t blame any specific Canucks defenceman for the highest goals-against in the league. Alex Edler, Travis Hamonic, and Jalen Chatfield have all missed time because of injury already, and Tyler Myers will likely be suspended for his hit to the head of Joel Armia on Thursday night.
The team has had to (and will still have to) rely on D-men with limited NHL experience, such as Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty. We’ll likely see the NHL return of Guillaume Brisebois, who has eight games’ worth of experience, and the debut of Jack Rathbone, a promising prospect who has yet to play in the NHL- both of whom are currently on the taxi squad.
The only saving grace at this point is that Jordie Benn is now finished his isolation as part of the league’s COVID protocol, and should be able to return to the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Canadiens. If any more of these guys officially go on the Injured Reserve list, don’t be surprised to see GM Jim Benning either make a trade or a waiver claim to bring in some more blueliners, because they definitely need it if they’re going to improve.
Although Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby haven’t had much help from their defencemen, they still need to improve. To say their stats are bad is an understatement. Both netminders have sub- .900 save percentages, while Demko’s Goals-Against Average is at 5.45 and Holtby’s is 3.57. That’s absolutely awful.
We saw flashes of a great goaltender from Demko in the playoffs last year, as then-starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom was injured. Holtby has already won the Vezina Trophy and the Stanley Cup, so he’s proven that he can be reliable and win games, although his numbers have taken a turn for the worse over the past few seasons. The Canucks are used to playing in front of a goalie that will come up with big saves every night, and steal games for them. Now that Markstrom is gone, there’s a hole to fill in the net, and so far neither netminder is getting the job done.
Once again, the poor defensive efforts certainly don’t help, but if the Canucks are going to win, they need better goaltending.
If Travis Green and his squad can figure out how to adjust these things, we’ll be seeing the Canucks in the playoffs a few months from now. If not, we might be seeing them in the draft lottery. Let’s hope for the first one.
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