Blood, Sweat and Tears
Trials and tribulations in the pacific northwest
February 28 2013
It was never going to be easy.
But you can’t blame anyone for feeling as if the Canucks have the worst kind of luck these days.
After a lengthy and tumultuous lockout that killed half of the 2013 NHL season, the excitement over the return of hockey has squandered into frustration and anxiety for Vancouver fans.
With the season now nearing the halfway point, the Canucks seem to face more questions than they have answers and there is a realization that this 48-game schedule will be far from a cake walk.
The most recent kick in the rear came courtesy of a broken foot belonging to Ryan Kesler. The same Kesler who missed the first month of the shortened season now faces another 4-to-6 weeks in the press box nursing a fracture in his right foot. That should be a serious concern to a player who, when healthy, is absolutely unstoppable but hasn’t been anywhere near 100% in over two years.
Somewhere, Sami Salo is chuckling to himself.
It seems strange to call Kesler injury-prone but his gritty style of play takes a toll on the body and it seems to be adding up.
With #17 out of the lineup for an extended period of time (again), the Canucks have serious roster issues to address.
For now, Jordan Schroeder seems the likely favorite to run the gauntlet on the second line, but where and who exactly IS the second line? It’s been a revolving door of wingers and centers trying to find consistency and chemistry with popgun results.
In truth, Mason Raymond has been a pleasant surprise with his noticeably improved play, but has found nobody to match his energy level. David Booth is still working his way up the depth chart and may be expedited into a top- 6 role now with Kesler’s absence. Higgins, the second wing of the war torn American Express line, has jumped up and down the chart all year long.
Meanwhile, the days of Kassian leading the team in goals seems forever ago. Recently, the jumbo-sized winger has been doing a better job warming the bench than intimidating any opposition and questions continue to arise as to what exactly the organization wants to do with him.
But the troubles don’t finish among the forwards.
The defense has been far from excellent and anything but steady.
After signing a contract extension over the summer, Alex Edler hasn’t quite found his comfort zone and you have to wonder if his back issues are seriously hampering him in a big way. Once known for his ice-cool persona, calmness and decision making, Edler has been guilty of trying to do too much and panicking in pressure situations. That may be the result of adjusting to life with #5 instead of #6 watching his back.
Sami Salo is probably chortling by now.
Bieksa, who became red-hot in the scoring department, is also facing injury issues and that has certainly exposed the unfamiliarity of Jason Garrison patrolling the Canucks blueline. Poor Dan Hamhuis has been saying all the right words and doing all the right things to no avail; you just can’t spontaneously replace and reproduce chemistry in hockey.
While Chris Tanev has taken strides in his game, he’s still getting trucked into the end boards night after night and sooner or later, something has to give. With the way injuries have been snagging the Canucks of late, it must terrify the Vancouver coaching staff whenever Tanev glides into a corner for a puck battle.
The Canucks have 8 defensemen on the roster but seem decisively nervous with the idea of playing summer pickup Cam Barker in any situation, though perhaps it’s just what the defense needs.
Yes, Barker is new and hasn’t even suited up for a pre-season game with the team, but a new face and new energy could be an ideal way to shake up the group. On the other hand, it could also hamper the thin layer of chemistry already on the verge of cracking. At this point, after 8-3 and 4-2 losses against Detroit and Phoenix respectively, the staff has to consider all options.
As for the Schneider-Luongo situation, what more can be said? Mike Gillis can dance around the truth all day but it has to be said; nobody anticipated the organization carrying both #1 and #35 this far into the season.
It would have almost been easier if Luongo was playing suspect goaltending, or if Schneider vocally declared his desire to be the bona fide starter, but for the sake of a public relations disaster, all parties have been peachy keen in a hand-grenade situation.
Hopefully sooner than later, a long-term resolution to this is unearthed.
At the end of the day, the Canucks really have to challenge themselves and there haven’t been many glimpses of the caliber of hockey this team is capable of playing.
It is fortuitous for Vancouver, however, that the northwest division is likely the weakest in the league and the team can still enjoy a 4-point cushion over second place Minnesota. Whether that lead lasts for much longer is completely in the air so their matchup against the Calgary Flames on March 3rd should be highlighted. It’s another chance for the club to gain a valuable two points in an irrelevant division.
With 29 games left in the schedule, it’s time to see if this team is a legitimate contender or masquerading as an eloquent pretender.