No Henrik. No problem.
Who am I kidding? The Vancouver Canucks had plenty of problems in their own zone at Barclays Center on Sunday. Fortunately for them, Ryan Miller was there standing tall and mopping up mess after mess somehow getting the Canucks past the New York Islanders 2-1 in a shootout.
Miller faced 48 shots including 22 in a one-sided third period, but was there time and time again to hold down the fort. Ryan Strome in the final minute of regulation was the only Islander to beat him as the rested Miller stopped all three Isles shooters he faced in the skills competition making Radim Vrbata’s goal stand up as the deciding marker.
The Canucks are 2-1 halfway through this six game road trip. No one can take those points away from them. But they have also given up 40 or more shots in each of the first three games (Washington, Carolina and the Island) and collectively have been outshot by 50 (128-78) in those games. They’re playing with fire but haven’t really been torched. Yet.
In my last blog, I suggested Jacob Markstrom was on the verge of supplanting Miller as the Canucks go-to guy in goal if the team was serious about staying in the playoff mix. Maybe Miller reads this stuff (I kid). But honestly, if the Canucks defense remains as porous as it has been of late, the team will have no choice but to alternate its goalies. They can’t face 40 shots on a nightly basis and be expected to be fresh and ready to perform at their best night in and night out. So as good as Miller was on Sunday, I’d be tempted to sit him down at Madison Square on Tuesday and let him be ready to play in Boston on Thursday. Then again, my history is spotty at best trying to get inside the mind of Willie Desjardins — especially when it comes to his goaltending decisions.
The win was the good news for the Canucks. The troubling news was delivered late in the first period by Mikhail Grabovski. The Islander forward hammered Henrik Sedin with a questionable check in front of the Canucks bench. Henrik left the game, didn’t return and afterward provided this update:
That time frame is certainly better than it could have been based on the initial distress Henrik was in on the ice. However, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be in the line-up in the short term and in his absence, the Canucks centre ice position likely has Jared McCann promoted to the top line with Bo Horvat, Linden Vey and Adam Cracknell behind him on the depth chart. Yikes. Brandon Sutter says he’s hoping for a return to the line-up in time to play against his former team in Pittsburgh on the weekend. You wonder if those plans might be accelerated even by a game if he’s capable of getting back in the line-up sooner.
Henrik has missed two games this season and missed a dozen in the second half of 2013-14. Those are the only games he’s been out of the line-up in the past decade. The Canucks record in those games is 4-8-2. Honestly, I was surprised they found a way to win four times without their captain. This season, they won in Detroit and lost in Florida — both in shootouts — without Henrik at the tail end of their last road trip just before Christmas.
How much does Henrik mean to the Canucks offense? He has 28 of the 181 assists (15.5%) the team has collected this season. And with 37 points in 44 games, he has been in on 34.6% of the 107 goals the Canucks have scored as a team this season. It’s a huge loss no matter how long he’s out. Henrik leads the team in helpers with 28. Daniel Sedin is second with 22 and then it’s a steep drop off to Alex Edler in third with 12.
Maybe Ben Hutton will pick up the slack. It was great to see the rookie blueliner score his first NHL goal. He’s had so many reasons to smile that smile of his already this season, but that big ol’ grin was taken to another level on Sunday. And with good reason.
Hutton’s goal was the first by a Canucks defenseman in two and a half weeks and the first since a Chris Tanev floater from the point against Anaheim on New Year’s Day. In the past 15 games, the Canucks haven’t seen much offense from their defense. Tanev leads the pack with 1+4=5 in those games followed by Matt Bartkowski and Alex Biega with 0+4=4 apiece. Hutton now has 1+1=2 over that span leaving Alex Edler tied with Yannick Weber and Taylor Fedun with 0+1=1. Yep, Edler has has the same production as Fedun who played just one game. Actually, Edler has one point in his last 16 games dating back to his last goal on December 9th against the Rangers.
Obviously, no one on the Canucks aside from Daniel Sedin scores with any regularity. The Canucks as a team have not scored more than three goals in a game in their past 11 outings, have done so once in their past 17 (at Florida on December 20th) and just twice in the past 25 (also vs Buffalo on December 7th). I found this pretty remarkable: the Canucks are 7-3-2 in their past 12 games holding nothing more than a one-goal lead at any point during that run. The last time they led by two was at 2-0 in Detroit on December 18th.
The Canucks beat the Wings that night so they are 8-3-2 in their last 13 games. That can’t sit well with tank nation that wants to see a top pick in June’s draft. Heading into action on Sunday, the Canucks were 6-3-1 in their previous 10 games. With 13 of a possible 20 points in that span, the Canucks had gained ground on 20 of the other 29 teams in the NHL standings. That’s no way to tank.
*with unexpected feeling in Sunday’s game against a non-traditional opponent like the Islanders (only a handful of the players in the game were alive for the 1982 Final), it would have been fun to see Jake Virtanen in a game like that one. You kind of get the feeling he would have been in the middle of things. Perhaps he’ll get his chance when the teams meet again on March 1st at Rogers Arena
*it’ll be interesting to see what the Canucks roster looks like for that one. The rematch with the Isles is the first game after the NHL’s February 29th trade deadline. The Canucks have 15 games on the schedule before trade day arrives
*and finally, thanks to nucksmisconduct.com, thehockeywriters.com, the guys at The Province especially Botch and Wyatt on The Provies duties and the boys at Pass it to Bulis and other sites that have posted links to my blog. I’m a newbie in this space and it means a lot to me that other sites have seen fit to bump my blog along. So thanks for that. And I’m happy to return the favour.
Thanks for checking in. Please share this blog via social media. I’ll have a new post after Tuesday’s game against the Rangers.