And that was without Jeff Carter. Yikes!
Look, I get that the Canucks are missing a busload of regulars and it showed in last night’s 5-0 loss to the Kings. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Los Angeles wasn’t anywhere close to full strength and still skated circles around the Canucks without their best player — or at least their leading scorer. Well, Carter was the Kings top scorer until Anze Kopitar joined him atop the team scoring parade with 28 points. Kopitar put on a master-class performance for those in attendance at Rogers Arena setting up four of the Kings five goals and winning 23 of his 28 face-offs.
Much of the match-up on Monday was about the middle of the ice. Just look at the shot chart and at the difference between the hash marks which tells a couple of stories about the game:
On the right, you see the LA shot attempts with the bulk coming from between the face-off circles which indicates a willingness to get to the middle of the offensive zone and an ability to get there against a depleted Canucks defense. On the left, it looks like someone sprinkled pepper. The majority of Canucks shots were from 40-50 feet with only a handful originating anywhere close to Jonathan Quick. Give the Kings credit for keeping the Canucks to the perimeter, but the Canucks need to examine a chart like this one and figure out how to get bodies and the puck to the net.
I understood where Willie Desjardins was coming from with his decision to play Linden Vey over Adam Cracknell. I didn’t agree with it prior to the game and question it again now, but I understand the reasoning. With Henrik Sedin nowhere close to 100% and Vey representing offensive options both at even-strength and on the power play (as well as being a face-off option with the man-advantage), the thinking was to give Vey a chance against his former team. But there wasn’t much there (1 shot on goal, 7/17 in the circle and on the ice for a pair of LA goals in 15:59 of ice). But look again at the shot chart above and tell me that Adam Cracknell wasn’t more likely than Linden Vey to work his way to the interior against that robust Kings defense.
The Canucks inability to score against the Kings is not a new problem. In their past 10 meetings, the Canucks have managed just 14 goals against Los Angeles and seven of those came in two games (a 4-1 win late last season and a 3-0 victory earlier this year). Last night was the third time in the past 10, the Kings have blanked the Canucks and on three other occasions they’ve limited them to just one goal. I’d say Darryl Sutter has this match-up figured out.
Generating offense clearly isn’t as easy as A-B-C for at least three struggling Canucks:
Alex Burrows has now gone 16 games without a point and has 2+1=3 in his last 25 games
Bo Horvat is up to 26 games without goal and has just one in his last 36
Chris Higgins has gone seven games without a point and has 0+1 in his past 19 games
Those are pretty remarkable figures for three guys who get double-digit minutes each night and each of whom has seen power play time during their droughts. I guess I’m willing to cut Horvat some slack as a sophomore who has been asked to play out of his comfort zone most of the season. And I’ve seen some signs lately (although not last night) of his game returning to form. But honestly, I don’t know what the Canucks do with Burrows and Higgins who seem to have lost the ability to have any kind of impact on a hockey game. It’s easy to say ‘trade them’ but other teams scout the Canucks and are aware of the declines in their games. And both players are under contract through the end of next season — Burrows with one more year at $4.5 million and Higgins at $2.5 million — not exactly the type of salary any wants on their books.
I hated to see the hit Henrik Sedin took from Brayden McNabb on the first shift of the game last night. I hate despite the concussion climate we live in that guys still lead with their elbows to another player’s head. And I hate the fact that not one of the four on-ice officials deemed the hit worthy of a penalty. I also hate that the National Hockey League has a Department of Player Safety that seems to look out for the well-being of the perpetrator far too often. How safe do you think Henrik Sedin felt with Brayden McNabb’s flying elbow in his face?
I was glad to hear the coach loft some post-game praise in the direction of Alex Biega who was on a short list of good players on a bad night for the team. The coach lauded him for sticking up for his captain and basically said that when the Canucks get healthy bodies back on the blueline, Biega will continue to play while others will sit. Based on that, the Utica Comets may be without their captain for some time yet.
With last night’s loss to LA, the Canucks closed out 2015 with a record of 41-33-11 in the 85 games they played this calendar year. That’s 93 of a possible 170 points (.547). Of course, there were also six playoff games played in 2015. No refresher required on that front.
It’s interesting that the Canucks closed out 2015 against Los Angeles and they’ll open 2016 against Anaheim. It seems to me there is a third California-based NHL team in California, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the Canucks schedule. There are quirks in all schedules, but I find it bizarre that the Canucks don’t see division rival San Jose until Sunday February 28th. And then they face the Sharks five times in a 17 game span including SJ making two trips to Vancouver in the same week on February 28th and again on March 5th.
Speaking of weeks:
Hey look, Antti Niemi had a good week last week. Good for him. You know who had a better week last week (at least statistically)? Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks netminder was 2-0 with a 0.97 GAA and a 96.7 save percentage in a pair of 2-1 wins over Tampa Bay and Edmonton. Sure, Niemi played one extra game for the week ending on December 27th, but he also had 12 goals to work with in his two victories. He plays for the Dallas Stars who make goal-scoring look pretty easy these days. Markstrom found a way to make due with four goals in his two wins. Just a hunch that Markstrom hasn’t lost any sleep over not getting acknowledgement from the league, but I thought I’d give him his due.
And finally, this is the end of the line for 2015. It’s been an eventful one for the Vancouver Canucks and it turned out to be a bumpy one on a personal level, too. But I wasn’t alone in that regard. I want to take a moment here to publicly wish all the best to colleagues and friends Perry Solkowski, Matt Baker and Cam Mitchell who were dealt the same hand I was in November. These are good sportscasters and better people and I can only hope that 2016 presents open doors to new and exciting opportunities.
To everyone else, thanks for your support in 2015. If you are able to share this blog via social media, I would greatly appreciate it. As I close, let me wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year and all the best in 2016!