Canucks Defensive Woes Continue Amid Early Success

The Vancouver Canucks have exceeded expectations through 15 games in the 2018-19 season. Canada’s Westernmost team is second in the Pacific Division, spearheaded by electrifying rookie forward Elias Pettersson. The Canucks’ offensive play has made them one of the NHL’s most entertaining teams but if their defense continues to struggle, their success so far may prove unsustainable.

Too Many Goals Allowed

Sure, Vancouver’s goaltending tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson have let in a handful of poor goals, but which goaltenders have not? It is the Canucks’ negative goal differential that directly relates to their defensive deficiencies.

Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom has six wins in nine starts this season. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The Canucks have allowed the sixth-most goals in the league at 50 while also giving up 3.33 goals-per-game. Their minus-three goal differential is the worst among NHL teams in a playoff position. Furthermore, the Canucks are one of two teams in a playoff berth to hold a goal differential below zero, the Buffalo Sabres at minus-one are the other squad.

Too many times the Canucks defense has broken down in their own zone this season. Their defensive unit has allowed an abundance of opposing players to get behind them and fire easy goals past either Markstrom or Nilsson. Missed assignments and miscommunication among all three defensive pairings are common. If the defense continues to perform in this manner, the Canucks’ offensive excellence will be undermined.

Unsustainable for Long-Term Success

High-scoring affairs are thrilling and the Canucks are the most watchable they have been in a few years with their offensive success. But to prolong their early-season performance, the defense needs to prevent the opposition from recording a large number of goals.

The Canucks have allowed opposing clubs to score 4-plus goals in seven games this season. Their most recent match came on Nov. 2 against the Colorado Avalanche when they beat the Avs 7-6 in an overtime barn-burner. The Canucks earned the victory, but if their offense did not play as dazzling as they did in the highlights below, there would not have won the game.

Vancouver’s tendency to give up numerous goals can be masked by the offense for a short time span. As the season continues, the need for a strong defense will be vital given the increase in physicality. Furthermore, the Canucks’ offense will be drained if they are tasked with carrying this team to victory on a game-to-game basis. It’s not like their forward group is loaded, as the Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Pettersson trio are the engines running the offense.

Pacific Division Loaded with Talent

Improvements among the defensive unit is imperative when considering who they will be playing for the majority of the season. The NHL’s Western Conference features teams in the Pacific Division with outstanding offensive talent, as one club boasts possibly the league’s best player.

Connor McDavid Oilers
Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid continues to light the league on fire in the 2018-19 season, as his 22 points rank second in the NHL. (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

The Edmonton Oilers are third in the Pacific with 17 points and can thank superstar forward Connor McDavid for their blazing start. The former first-overall draft pick has 10 goals and 12 assists through 14 games, as his 22 points rank second in the NHL. The Oilers are not the only Alberta-based team with offensive firepower, as the division-leading Calgary Flames boast a trio of forwards in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, who are all among the league’s top-11 scorers.

The division’s offensive explosiveness extends to Northern California where the San Jose Sharks are loaded with some of the NHL’s elite players. The Sharks possess arguably the NHL’s finest offensive defense pairing in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. Moreover, their forward unit featuring Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, and Evander Kane can light the lamp at any moment.

If these three squads continue playing at a high level on offense or improve, then the Canucks’ defense will need to improve greatly if they want the team to legitimately contend for a playoff spot once 2019 rolls around.