A 2-0 shutout loss to a middle-of-the-pack team. A 2-6-2 record in their last 10 games. And now an injury to one of their two best players, Henrik Sedin.
The Vancouvers Canucks are currently in a free fall, with nothing in sight to grab hold of.
The Canucks were always going to be a bubble team heading into the 2015-16 season; not the true powerhouse that they were just a few short years ago due to the declining age of their core players, but still good enough to fight their way into a playoff spot. It’s then, the thinking goes, that anything can happen.
Well, the first step of even making the playoffs, let alone winning a round or more, must feel like a daunting task right now for a Canucks team that doesn’t have anything currently going their way.
“There’s quite a bit that bothered me,” said Vancouver head coach Willie Desjardins after his team dropped an embarrassing 6-2 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. “I don’t think our compete level was high enough. We have a few guys that are playing hard. I thought (Ryan) Miller had an outstanding game. If it wasn’t for him, it would have been bad.”
The “quite a bit” part of that quote is what’s the most telling. Simply put, the Canucks have been struggling lately in all aspects of their game. They’ve only scored 14 goals in their last 10 contests, with three of those losses being shutouts, while giving up 32 goals in the same span. The defense has looked lethargic. Starting goalie Ryan Miller has been shaky, while backup Jacob Markstrom, who’s been given a few opportunities recently to stem the tide, hasn’t been able to steal a much-needed win.
One of the team’s rare bright spots has been the play of the Sedin twins, producing points as steadily as ever even at age 35, but now the sudden loss of Henrik has thrown that into doubt as well. How will Daniel perform if his lifelong setup-man is on the shelf for an extended period of time?
Brandon Sutter and Dan Hamhuis are also out injured. Radim Vrbata, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins are on the wrong side of 30. Jared McCann, Bo Horvat and Ben Hutton, despite having bright futures ahead of them, are all still too young and inexperienced to shoulder enough of the load themselves. It’s the perfect storm, and the Canucks seem to be stuck outside without an umbrella.
The good news for Vancouver is that, for the time being at least, the math is still on their side. After all, they’re currently only two points outside of the third and final playoff spot in the NHL’s Pacific Division. The bad news is that the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are the two main teams to leapfrog in the standings, but both are playing a lot better than the Canucks as of late (7-2-1 in their last 10 for the former and 7-3 for the latter), much younger, and, judging by the on-ice aesthetics, a lot hungrier. This also isn’t factoring in the Anaheim Ducks, a preseason Stanley Cup favourite that is currently last in the Pacific, but is still stacked with talent and is only three points behind Vancouver with three games in hand to work with.
There’s still time for Vancouver to turn things around, but they need to do so fast as their window of opportunity has closed down significantly in the month of December and it doesn’t appear like it will open any further any time soon.