And so the Canucks' road woes continue after a third period collapse in which Antti Miettinen was the Wild's spark. The loss drops Vancouver to two games below .500 on the road and a chance to claim top spot in the division. I think it bears mentioning that the Canucks must finish above .500 on the road to make the playoffs. The face their biggest challenge in February and March and the Canucks have yet to play with any form of consistency. The recent 4-win surge was nice, but it has been followed up with 3 straight losses and another tough match-up Saturday night against Pittsburgh. The poor scheduling (@ Min, vs. Pit, @ Edm, vs. Dal) should not be an excuse - it is what it is. Same goes for the reffing. Like I said before, teams that finish with a sub-par road record rarely make the playoffs. Case in point, the 2005-06 Canucks squad, despite boasting two 30-goal scorers. The Canucks may boast as many as four of those this year (Henrik, Daniel, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond) but it would be all for naught if they didn't qualify for the postseason.
I don't think anybody was on their game last night. Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo, usually the two most dependable on our blueline, made some bad turnovers that resulted in some good Minnesota chances. Antti Miettinen was left wide-open in the slot for his first goal and I'm sure Roberto Luongo would've liked to have some of those back. He was pulled mid-way through the second and Andrew Raycroft stepped in, but the game was lost long before that. The Canucks lacked any sort of aggressiveness or bounce in their step that had served them well in their previous three games. Christian Ehrhoff missed the puck on an icing call but I think he was afraid to get hit. We've seen our share of bad hits by players racing for the puck but Ehrhoff has to make sure he touches it.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20100114/capt.61415ef94a1347d0ac2b8f101e6e8681.canucks_wild_hockey_mnjm114.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> A big deal was made of Minnesota's coaching change after fans were tired of Jacques Lemaire's trap. Todd Richards, hired from San Jose, has promised a more up-tempo and aggressive forecheck that emphasizes offense. It was pretty clear to me that the Wild were the more aggressive team and repeatedly put the Canucks defense on their heels. Their use of speed and relentless forechecking caused problems throughout the night. However, an aggressive forecheck doesn't necessarily translate to success. The Wild's deficiencies are well-documented, allowing 2.89 goals per game compared to 2.40 last year, 2nd best in the league. However, their offense has only marginally improved, from 2.61 to 2.70. I think a huge reason for this is Marian Gaborik. Last year, the Wild were able to play defense and take care of their own zone first and really capitalize on opposition turnovers, and with a finisher like Gaborik they placed quality over quantity (the '09-'10 Wild average 1.2 shots more per game than last year). Martin Havlat, the Wild's big splash this year, has thus far been a disappointment. What sort of personnel you have should dictate what sort of style you play and I think in the Wild's case, Richards' system isn't really working, especially without the offense of Brent Burns from the back end.
The trade-off with this more aggressive offensive strategy is a less stingy defense. I have never seen the Canucks be able to walk into the Minnesota zone so easily. The second period was the Canucks' best and they were routinely able to skate the puck in, something that almost never happened with Lemaire. The Sedins' usual dump-and-chase cycle game wasn't necessarily because they could hang onto the puck past the blue line but somehow they got away from that and started dumping it in again in the third. Kudos to Darcy Hordichuk and Alexandre Bolduc trying to spark the team with fights, but the Canucks still remained lethargic.
I expect the Canucks to respond appropriately Saturday night against the Pens with a struggling Evgeni Malkin and up-and-down Marc-Andre Fleury.