The Vancouver Canucks’ bubble burst on Sunday with their first postseason defeat since the 3-0 debacle in Game 1 of the qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild. The St. Louis Blues pressured them all night long with a relentless forecheck and eventually won it on an overtime breakaway by Brayden Schenn.
Now the Canucks need to regroup quickly or they will be playing in a best-of-three series with the Blues having all the momentum. They can hang their hats on a few things though, as they still had monster performances from Elias Pettersson and more importantly Jacob Markstrom. Even though he allowed three goals, he was instrumental in giving them a chance to win and go up 3-0 in the series.
The Canucks will need to make some changes in their game to ultimately bounce back and take a 3-1 stranglehold on the series. Here are five things they will need to do to make that happen.
Canucks Need a Quicker Transition Game
Throughout the series, the Blues have put the Canucks through the wringer with an intense, aggressive forecheck. They were able to work through it in Games 1 and 2, but you had to know that the reigning Stanley Cup champions would not go away that easily. They upped the ante in Game 3 with even more physicality, forcing every defenceman into quicker decisions when they went back for the puck.
Unlike the first two games, the Canucks defence did not move the puck fast enough out of the defensive zone and into the hands of their speedy forwards. They were either turning it over at the blue line or just handing it back to the Blues by flipping it into the neutral zone. Even Quinn Hughes could not beat the forecheck cleanly without getting crunched into the boards.
If the Canucks are going to bounce back and win Game 4, they need to do a better job of beating the forecheck and getting back to the quick transition game we all know and love. Whenever they don’t move the puck with speed and control, they just don’t win games, period.
Edler & Stecher Must Be Better
The Canucks clearly missed Tyler Myers in Game 3 as Troy Stecher and Alex Edler were forced into increased minutes. They did not handle the added pressure well, combining for 24 shots against and an abysmal 24.07 Corsi-for percentage (CF%). To make matters worse, they were also a collective minus-5.
They were primarily matched against the Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Jaden Schwartz line for most of the game, and things did not go according to plan. They had issues with their speed and size and allowed way too many high danger chances against. Usually, that’s not a recipe for success, especially if you’re defending that way against them each and every shift.
Since Myers probably won’t be back in Game 4, they will once again be the primary shutdown pairing for head coach Travis Green. At this point, it may be better to reunite the tried and true duo of Edler and Chris Tanev, which performed so well against top lines in the past (from ‘Edler, Tanev blue-line bond continues to shine, shut down rivals’ best’ The Province, 1/18/19). Regardless of pairings, Edler and Stecher need to bounce back in a big way if the Canucks hope to avoid a 2-2 series tie.
Limit Chances in the High Danger Areas
The Canucks did not do a great job of limiting high danger chances in Game 3, that’s for sure. Similar to the regular season, Markstrom had to be the best player on the ice for the team to have a chance to win. Unfortunately for him, he could only do so much, as the Blues finally got the break they were looking for in overtime when the Canucks failed to cover for Hughes when he busted in on the forecheck.
As you can see from the above Heat Map from Natural Stat Trick, the Blues had a plethora of chances from the most dangerous spot on the ice, the slot. In fact, Markstrom was faced with 11 high danger shots and two of the three goals he allowed were of the same variety as well. It’s no wonder that they lost the game in the end. Actually, they should thank their goaltender that it didn’t end in a blowout.
For the Canucks to have success, they have to get back to the defensive game they showcased against the Wild. Even though they won the first two games, they still have allowed way too many high danger shots in this series. They need to tighten up in front of Markstrom and force the Blues to shoot from the outside, rather than the slot.
Get More Favourable Matchups for the Lotto Line
Throughout the first two games in this series, the Lotto Line of Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and JT Miller has been largely shut down 5-on-5 by the two-way “shutdown” line of O’Reilly, Schwartz, and Perron. Up until Game 3’s one-shot performance, they were held shotless and had allowed 10 shots against as well. They also had an uncharacteristic 25 CF%.
To put that in perspective, when they were deployed away from that line, they had 15 shots and a 50 CF%, which was more in line with how they usually perform. To make a long story short, they play more like a top-line rather than a fourth line when matched against literally any other trio.
When Green was able to get them away from that line in Game 3, they generated 12 shots and only allowed two against. They also posted a very impressive 78.3 CF% which means they had the puck 78 percent of the time when they were on the ice. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the coaching staff needs to do a better job of getting favourable matchups for them. The Canucks need the Lotto Line to start controlling play in the offensive zone 5-on-5 so that the defence isn’t taxed as much with the physical forecheck of the Blues.
Get More Offence & Pressure From the Bottom-Six
To be fair, the Canucks’ bottom-six has done a good job in the playoffs so far. Except, when it comes to offence, they are somewhat of a black hole. Brandon Sutter and Antoine Roussel are the only forwards with any goals, and both the third and fourth lines looked a little outmatched in the game against the Blues on Sunday.
Zack MacEwen had another strong game generating five hits, but was a minus-1 and did not generate much in the offensive zone. As much as we all love Tyler Motte’s game, he played way too much 5-on-5 in Game 3, and it showed with a few giveaways and failed clears in the defensive zone. He did have another physical game with seven hits, but unless he’s generating offence or killing penalties, he should not be playing over 24 minutes.
The Canucks are getting production from their top-six, but next to nothing from the bottom of the lineup. There will come a time when the stars won’t be able to produce, and an unsung hero will have to emerge from the shadows. If that doesn’t happen soon, they will be hard-pressed to overthrow the Blues. They at least need to generate more pressure in the offensive zone, so that the defence isn’t always under attack at the other end of the ice.
Lineup Changes for Game 4?
After a loss, Green usually makes a few tweaks to his lineup. So what changes should he make? First of all, despite Jake Virtanen’s missed chance on a breakaway and one good hit in the offensive zone, he just has not been good enough in this series. Enter Adam Gaudette. He has not played since Game 1 of the qualifying round, so I’m sure he has a lot of energy and desire to get back into the lineup and stay there. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Canucks will need that type of speed and energy he usually brings to the rink.
As for the defence, Green should look at bringing in Olli Juolevi, just for his smarts and ability to move the puck up the ice. However, since Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg had a surprisingly good game defensively with a collective 37.5 CF% (second only to Tanev and Hughes), he may be hesitant to change that up. If anything, Green should break up the Stecher and Edler pairing for this game, and reunite the Edler-Tanev shutdown unit.
Tanev and Hughes are a supreme top pairing, but in order to limit the chances the O’Reilly line is having, it may be time to think about defence more than offence at this point. Whatever he ultimately decides upon, the Canucks will still need a stronger effort from the whole team if they hope to avoid restarting the series at two games apiece.
My name is Matthew and I cover the Vancouver Canucks, and Vancouver Giants here at the Hockey Writers. I am also the head of the prospects and NHL Draft coverage. In addition to writing, I host the Canucks & Pucks podcast as well. I am passionate about the Canucks, prospects, and all things hockey.