Written by: Larry “The Nucks IceMan” Johnson
Much has been written about why the Canucks have failed in the last two games, being outscored 12-2. Half of their special teams have not been special, as the Penalty Kill is ranked 11th out of 16 teams. The Power Play on the other hand is third, so something is still working.
The reporters, bloggers and analysts have told you about the physical and mental side, momentum, goaltending, defense, you name it, and they have all voiced their opinion.
After absorbing these last two beatings the Chicago Hawks laid on the Canucks, it suddenly dawned on me what had made the Canucks successful in the regular season - was missing in the play-offs. This component had been built into their system, which drove the Power Play, Penalty Kill, 54 Wins, 117 points, North West Division Championship, Western Conference Championship and the President’s Trophy.
I’m talking about puck possession. When you start off with it 54.9% of the time (1st in the NHL), you have already gained possession of the puck and are in attack mode with the next pass, whether it be in the defensive or offensive zone.
With possession, you are not chasing the other team for it and it usually results in the other team taking the larger percentage of the penalties. This begets the offense, which begets the power play, which for the Canucks, has helped them win many games. Thus their success this season.
On the penalty kill, winning the face-offs meant a short pass to another player; a puck along the boards or chipped off the glass, clearing the zone and eliminating precious seconds off the penalty clock. This also contributed to the goaltender not having to face so many quality scoring opportunities.
The Canucks had three players that took face-offs very well during the regular season and were ranked as follows in the NHL: Manny Malhotra – second at 61.7%, Ryan Kesler – seventh at 57.4% and Henrik Sedin – 38th at 52%.
On the other hand, the Hawks had only one player that was in the top ten and that was Jonathan Towes – 8th at 56.7%. Dave Bolland, who seems to have made such an impact to the Hawks lineup since his return, was 80th at 45%.
Now to why the Canucks are struggling, and I’m sure you realize where I’m going with this. During the regular season the Canucks were third on the penalty kill and the Hawks were 25th. In the play-offs the Canucks are 11th and the Hawks are 14th.
On the power play in the play-offs the Canucks are third while the Hawks are sixth. What has changed dramatically is that the Hawks are starting with the puck and not the Canucks. Chicago is fourth in face-offs at 52.2% while the Canucks have fallen to 13th as a team at 47.8%.
Jonathan Toews is third in total face-offs taken with 101, but has carried on his percentage from the regular season with a 57.4%. Toews is beating all the Canucks centres and the Hawks are taking possession in key situations both in their zone and in the Canuck’s. Dave Bolland has also contributed in this area by increasing his percentage wins to 50.
The Canucks centres having fallen off enough to make a difference. True, the Canucks are missing Manny Malhotra, and they truly do miss him in that area, amongst others, but both Kesler and Henrik Sedin have fallen off noticeably.
Ryan Kesler leads the play-offs with 104 taken but is 33rd at 48.1% while Henrik Sedin has taken 89 face-offs, which is sixth most, but his percentage wins is 27th at 49.4%
Mason Raymond, who I questioned at being used for the third line centre, has done remarkably well with 55% on 20 draws. He may not be built for the play-offs, but he serves a purpose in the face-off circle. Maxim Lapierre is 50% on 40 attempts while Cody Hodgson is 33.3% on 15.
The only time the Canucks have any advantage is when the third and fourth lines get matched up to the Hawks third and fourth line. But that isn’t happening very often as the Hawks role out Toews or Bolland at every opportunity.
We also know why Hodgson (33.3%), who I thought was the best forward in last night’s game, is not being used as much, even though he is a natural centre.
All these figures and watching the games tells me that if Kesler and Henrik can return to their winning ways in the face-off circle, this will change the puck possession and, well, I’ve explained already what that creates.
The Canucks have had a system in place since 2006 when Coach Alain Vigneault arrived, and it’s based on defense first, which in turn creates the offense. If the Nucks can return to that system and play a simple game, they should prevail even if it isn’t pretty.
I mentioned in a number of previous articles, that this series was closer than the 3-0 indicated. And now, as it stands at 3-2, you know why.
I still stand by my previous call before the play-offs started. The Canucks in six.
Photo Credits – AP, Getty Images, Goggle Images and Yahoo Sports!
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Filed under: Vancouver Canucks