I’d like to deal with something other than why Roberto Luongo is struggling in October. Actually, it involves the goaltending to a certain degree, but what I really would like to explain is the importance of team defense, or in this case – the lack thereof.
That’s really the area that the Canucks are struggling with and the end result is placed squarely on the goaltender’s shoulders, as he is the last line of defense.
The positional play and responsibilities are first taught at the minor hockey level for rep teams, which is really a microcosm of what continues through hockey right up to the professional level. So it’s not as if the Canucks are having to learn anything that they haven’t known for like, what – 10 to 20 years. By the pro level there are even more intricate systems, and with the speed of the game more opportunities for break-downs, and that’s what the opposition is trying to create.
What most of the fans see is the end result, captured on your television screen which only shows you a small portion of the ice surface. What most fans do not see, unless you are actually at the game, are the other players who were very much contributors to that result, the goals against.
Except for the one goal scored on Luongo last night, when the communication with Dan Hamhuis was given by hand signals, the other two goals were a result of defensive zone coverage malfunctioning. Yes, a malfunction at the junction.
In the defensive zone you have three players that have down-low, or let’s call it around-the-net, responsibility. They are the two defensemen and the centre.
At times it can be like man-to-man coverage that you see in football or basketball, where a D-man on a particular side will stay with the forward that ventures into that area, while the centre may cover the opposing centre or whoever is in front of the goal.
At other times, it may be a zone type of coverage that you will see on the penalty kill, where the defensive players are responsible for certain areas of the ice.
On a five-on-five, the two defending wingers are responsible for the point men, with their responsibilities being to take away their shot on net by moving into the shooting lanes. If the attacking D-man decides to break for the net, then the winger will have to attach himself to the D-man, or risk the probability that the down-low threesome defending will be outnumbered.
Many times during a game you will see a D-man who breaks for the net and is left uncovered, and if he receives a pass he will have an excellent opportunity for a shot on goal.
With today’s game, where positional players in the attacking zone are moving all over the place crisscrossing, that’s where you see breakdowns and outnumbered chances happening around the net. Why? Because sometimes the defending wingers will release their coverage and pick up the wrong attacker as he crosses over.
The puck seems like a magnet at times and attracts more players than is really needed. When a team is struggling on defense too many players are trying to do too much, pulling themselves out of position.
While other times, the defending wingers will collapse to the net in order to completely form a shell of five players defending in front of the goaltender. Now there’s a real strong line of defense as you will see an attacking D-man purposely shoot wide hoping for a deflection, because how are they going to get the puck through eight bodies and the goaltender?
It only takes a second of hesitation or misreads of assignment and you have a top notch scoring opportunity. Last night on one of the Edmonton goals, Alex Edler lost coverage on his man and it ended up in the net. Another time it was Keith Ballard I believe, but it’s what occurred previous to the play started the breakdown.
On one goal Cody Hodgson, who was along the boards, was soft in his coverage and two passes later, quicker than you can open a bottle, the puck was in the net.
The other time one of the Sedins, I think it was Henrik, lost his man. Was that Luongo’s fault because he couldn’t stop a scoring chance that was basically an open net shot unobstructed from six feet out? No, that was players in the defensive zone, starting with the forward. First, Hodgson for not covering his man along the boards and then Henrik letting his player get into an open spot, uncovered, resulting in a scoring chance he converted.
In a span of about five minutes the Canucks’ defensive system, which includes Luongo on that one goal, completely broke down, was running all over, and the result was three goals.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but when the Canucks start playing the defensive system, which is basically the same since Coach Vigneault arrived, by all five players on the ice, then this team will start to have much better results.
Until then, you will not see much consistency in any areas of the Canucks game, because it all starts with defense.
Ice Chips: I wonder how long before Coach decides that Dale Weise or Max Lapierre are playing better than Jannik Hansen (-4) and Manny Malhotra (-5)? One more time now with gusto, Hodgson needs some physical players on his line, because he’s a centre that will score more goals than most of his wingers.
For most of last night’s game the Sedins were invisible, as evidenced by Henrik’s shot total – none!
When Aaron Rome returns, which will be soon, and Coach really likes this player, I wonder who Coach will pick from the defense to sit out? Vigneault has always maintained that he will play the guys that are playing the best.
With Keith Ballard and Kevin Bieksa both at -7, would Coach sit out his favourite (Bieksa) who is actually struggling worse than Ballard?
If Canucks management does not feel that Edler will develop into the D-man they expected, will they trade him for someone else? Five seasons, 313 NHL games and counting, this 25 year old has yet to blossom into a consistent player.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins reminds me a bit of Wayne Gretzky in the way he slows down the game, is patient, anticipates the play and sees the whole ice. He’s been pretty impressive andhe’s only 18!
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Filed under: Vancouver Canucks