Willie Desjardins has been a breath of fresh air for the Canuck fan base, after John Tortorella left a stench in Rogers Arena upon his exit at the end of last season. Tortorella’s old dump and chase system was replaced by Desjardins up-tempo puck possession style of hockey.
While Desjardins likely won’t win the Jack Adams trophy, he deserves to be in the conversation for turning the Canucks around. He cares about all his players, and shows up around the rink more than Tortorella did last season.
The Canucks currently sit in a playoff spot thanks to Desjardins’ new system, and the balanced scoring attack that the Canucks have shown this season. Still, they aren’t a perfect hockey team, and some of their flaws may become even more apparent during the playoffs.
The Canucks sit eighth overall in the league when it comes to goals per-game, but scoring at even-strength has been a problem for them all season.
They are 21st in the NHL with a 0.95 even strength goals for and against ratio. Of the 16 teams currently in the playoffs, the Canucks rank dead last in that category.
They are in the middle of the pack when it comes to putting the puck in the net at five-on-five, but are tied for 22nd in the league for goals against at even-strength. That would also be the worst total among playoff-bound teams, as they are tied with the New York Islanders in that category.
Their high goal scoring totals are masked by a resurging powerplay that sits 13th overall in the league, along with their league-leading 21 empty net goals.
In comparison, their potential playoff opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, are fifth overall when it comes to their goal differential at even strength.
While rookie Bo Horvat is having a great year in the faceoff circle, the same can’t be said for the rest of the Canucks. Horvat is the only Canuck above 50% in the circle with a faceoff percentage of 51.6%. As a team, the Canucks have won 46.9% of their faceoffs. That’s good for 28th in the NHL.
Here are the percentages for the other main centremen on the Canucks:
- Nick Bonino: 48%
- Brad Richardson: 47.8%
- Henrik Sedin: 45.1%
- Linden Vey: 43.2%
Horvat has seen an increased role in the faceoff dot, as he sits third on the team behind Bonino and Sedin for draws taken. However having one reliable centreman could be a cause for concern heading into the playoffs.
The Canucks lack of capability for winning faceoffs has led to weaker possession numbers for the club. They have a 49% Corsi in all situations, which is 22nd in the NHL. Among playoff clubs only Calgary and Montreal have posted worse possession numbers.
The Canucks have shown some grit in their bottom six with guys such as Derek Dorsett and Ronalds Kenins, but they are still known as a team that gets pushed around. This doesn’t bode well for a team that is likely to be physically outmatched when the playoffs begin.
Vancouver is 27th in the NHL in hits. They aren’t a team that is going to scare any opponent physically. It was never meant to be a team strength, but this weakness could become apparent during the playoffs, especially against some of the heavier teams in the West.
They may start throwing the body around more in the playoffs. Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler have tended to hit more during the playoffs, although injuries to both players this season may hinder them from doing so.
Although they have the fourth lowest hit total, the three teams below them, Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota are all playoff bound. Throwing the body may not be the most important adjustment, but if they are matched up against a physical team it could cause problems.
Their potential playoff partner, the Los Angeles Kings, have the second highest hit total in the league. The Canucks will have to end up playing a more physical game is they face off against Los Angeles in the first round.