With 1:14 to go, the Canucks trailing 2-0 and with Ryan Miller on the bench for an extra attacker last night in Chicago, Willie Desjardins tapped Bo Horvat, Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins and Sven Baertschi on the shoulder. This came moments after the Sedins, Radim Vrbata and Jannik Hansen had taken a twirl together trying to get the Canucks on the board in the late stages of the third period. With his best players spent, the coach was placing his faith in a secondary group of forwards to produce a goal that might give the Canucks some life and a chance to steal something out of the United Center. It can hardly be considered a surprise that the desired result was not achieved and the Canucks fell 4-0 to start their six game road trip in dubious fashion.
Of the quartet in question, Burrows was the last to score a goal. It came a day shy of a month ago in Toronto (November 14th). Four guys without a goal in the past month somehow represent hope for this hockey club. Both sad and true, that’s exactly who the Vancouver Canucks are these days. They are Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Sometimes they are Jannik Hansen and Radim Vrbata. And occasionally they are Alex Edler, too. After that, they are a jumble of a dozen players all in the throes of double-digit goal-scoring droughts.
Burrows is the latest to see his offense vanish. After starting the year with eight points in his first 11 games, the veteran forward has now gone 10 games without as much as a point. And the last time he found the scoresheet was an empty net goal on November 21st. That barely counts.
Baertschi has not scored since November 12th in Ottawa, Higgins last scored on November 8th in New Jersey and Horvat — woe Horvat — has now gone 19 games without a goal dating back to November 2nd against Philadelphia. Incredibly, the second year centre scored on the second night of the season against Calgary and has one goal in 29 games since then. ONE GOAL IN HIS LAST 29 GAMES. I no longer care about the role he’s being asked to play or the match-ups he’s getting. Everyone in the NHL draws tough assignments. It’s the best league in the world. And most players are producing with considerably more frequency than Horvat who in no way resembles the kid who played with so much confidence after Christmas a year ago. Any way you slice it, it’s been a disastrous first 10 weeks of the season for Horvat who scored on the power play against the Flames and his goal against the Flyers came 4-on-4, so 31 games into this season he still hasn’t managed a 5-on-5 goal. That’s absurd.
And with that in mind, here’s another thing that gives reason for pause:
Horvat has become the poster boy for the Canucks problems away from Rogers Arena. The team has one goal in its past three road games and seven goals in its last six games as the visitors. Horvat has 0+2=2 in 17 road games so far this season. His numbers are shocking, but he’s by no means the only one spinning his wheels on the road these days:
You’ll notice that Vrbata and Hansen are the only guys not named Sedin to score a goal in the Canucks past six road games. No surprise the game in Minny was the team’s lone road victory in that span (1-3-2). That’s jarring considering the next five are on the road.
Back to Burrows for a second. With Brandon Sutter on the shelf, Burrows has assumed the net front presence role on the Canucks top power play unit. His job is to battle for space in front of the net and limit the sight of the opposing goaltender. And he did just that on Wednesday when Alex Edler opened the scoring with a wrist shot through traffic past a screened Henrik Lundqvist. So give Burrows some credit there. But on a power play unit that’s looked better of late, Burrows hasn’t picked up a point since being placed on the top unit. You’d think there’d be a deflection or a rebound to be had in there somewhere. But honestly, I can not recall the last time a Canuck scored on a deflection or a rebound on the power play. It may very well have been Burrows in Toronto a month ago. The Sedins work the puck down low and then out to the point and shots are either finding their way in from there or they’re being blocked. But the man in the middle is having very little impact when the Canucks are working with the man-advantage.
But that first unit of the power play should probably stay out for the full two minutes (or until they score) because last night the second unit consisted of Bo Horvat, Chris Higgins, Sven Baertschi up front (each with two goals on the season) and Ben Hutton and Yannick Weber on defense (neither has a goal). At this point, I refer you to paragraph two above.
I don’t know what to make of Weber’s season, but I know it hasn’t been very good. It got off to a tough start and hasn’t improved. This is a guy who scored 11 goals last year and held his own defensively most nights. This year it’s a heap of nothing offensively combined with a never-ending series of adventures in his own end. The effort on the 3-0 Andrew Shaw empty netter last night was questionable at best. With Dan Hamhuis out for months and Luca Sbisa not expected back before Christmas, this should have been the opportunity Weber was looking for to make a statement with his play. Perhaps he is — just not the one the Canucks wanted to see.
*we have to give the Canucks some marks for creativity in the second period last night when they went with the 22, 33, 44 and 55 penalty killing unit. They just needed Mark Messier or Mario Lemieux to complete the set when they got back to full strength
*Chris Higgins doesn’t take many penalties. In fact, his tripping call on Teuvo Teravainen midway through the first period last night was just his second visit to the box this season. Unfortunately, it led to the power play goal that opened the scoring (and stood up as the game winner). Higgins’ other penalty was a slashing minor in Ottawa on November 12th. The Canucks managed to kill that one off
*and finally, the Canucks made the right call loaning Jake Virtanen to the World Junior team. Hopes were high that Virtanen would be able to step into the NHL and have an immediate impact. That hasn’t happened. Sure, he’s thrown his weight around and hasn’t looked out of place physically on most nights. But like so many others in Canuck colours this season, Virtanen has struggled mightily to generate offense with any regularity. A return to the World Juniors will give him an opportunity to re-establish himself as a go-to-guy and, if all goes well, will give him the chance to rediscover the offensive side of his game. If that happens, the Canucks can bring him back after Christmas and give him another chance in the NHL. If things don’t go according to plan for Virtanen and Team Canada, then I won’t be the least bit surprised to see the power forward finish the season with the Calgary Hitmen
***I have taken to blogging in recent weeks, but have not had the chance to speak publicly about the Canucks and hockey. Until now. I was a guest on the Game Time Decision podcast which has now been posted at vancitybuzz.com
Have a listen here: