The Canucks blue line is supposed to be one of the best in the league. With names like Salo, Bieksa, Mitchell, Edler and Schneider, the Canucks on paper boast a blue line that should be amongst the leagues best. Gillis builds his teams from the net out and on paper this team is rock solid, but as we approach the quarter way-mark of the season, the Canucks defense has been shaky at best, and the odd injury aside, the Canucks blue line has been the one of the healthiest parts of the team. Gillis stocked up on blueliners in the offseason in anticipation of losing many a man game to blue line injury, but with the exception of Salo, no blue liner has had an in season injury that’s kept him out. (Schneider was out before the season started).
Edler has been having an off season. He’s pocketed a handful of assists, but his play lacks confidence, and he’s making mistakes we never would have seen him make last year. Routine gaffs at the blue line, getting caught up ice, and the biggest problem is as a puck moving defenseman, he’s not moving the puck. His breakout passes are suffering and his whole game is off kilter because of his lack of confidence. He’s taking bad shots on the PP, and it doesn’t help that he’s counted on to be one of the defensive leaders on the team. After a career year last year it can be expected that he wouldn’t necessarily repeat, but his sub par play has really been amplified by a defense that’s been sub par as a whole.
Salo is the only blue liner that’s gone down to injury this season. It was expected though, so it’s not really a surprise. When he’s out, the Canucks PP suffers, and it’s record suffers, and the numbers show that when the Finn is in the game he brings stability to the power play and his shot provides the Canucks offense with another dimension. With that in mind, the Canucks blue liner hasn’t scored in over 25 regular season games. It’s great to have a shot, but offensively he’s not contributing like he’s expected to.
Bieksa has done what Bieksa always does. He’s been an offensive defenseman who needs to work a little more on being defensive. His play is fine, it’s unlikely he’s ever going to change into some mind blowingly good shut down guy, but the Canucks need him to turn back up his physical game. This is a team that isn’t stacked with tough guys, grit, or bone crushers and the reality is he falls into that category. The Canucks don’t need him fighting all the time, or taking stupid penalties, but Bieksa needs to throw the body some more and change his physical game. The Canucks don’t have the size other teams do and they need their physical players to be even more physical than before.
Schneider has come in and he’s done what’s expected of him. He’s shooting the puck well, he’s not a defensive liability, but his plus minus is speaking louder than his play right now. He hasn’t had enough games in my opinion to really succeed or fail.
Mitchell our shut down defenseman has been anything but that this season. He’s backing off the puck, and as we saw in St. Louis, he backed off one play and when you give a player the open shot from the top of the circle you’re just asking for trouble. Willie’s struggles are a result of the struggles of the entire defence.
Ehrhoff has been a diamond in the rough. Offensively and defensively he’s not what I expected when we snagged him in that steal from the Sharks. He’s cooled off offensively of late, but his smooth play makes him one of better defenseman so far this season. I like everything I’ve seen from him so far and the fact that we have him locked under contract for another couple of years means when Mitchell is a FA this season, Ehrhoff might replace him.
O’Brien is doing what O’Brien does. Doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. He never scores, he rarely picks up any points, and he’s hardly hitting. So why are we keeping the 1.7 million dollar wonder around? O’Brien’s job needs to to be physical. He can’t be taking stupid penalties, and poking his stick where he has no business poking it, but O’Brien has to be part of the Canucks physical presence, he needs to hit and he needs to get gritty.
The Canucks defense in general need to step up in more ways than one. Each player has their own issues to overcome, but if the defense can start to click this team’s dynamic changes instantly.