The Vancouver Canucks had reasons to believe that they could come out and play well Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup Playoff opener. For once all season they seemed relatively healthy, at least on paper. That they dropped a 3-1 decision to San Jose is not shocking, but the way the Canucks floated through the game could be cause for alarm.
Simply put, the Canucks did not produce enough offense.
They were unable to get sustained pressure on the Sharks and while San Jose goalie Antti Niemi played well, he was not severely tested. Vancouver made life pretty easy on the veteran goal tender and only mustered one scramble goal, one that actually went off San Jose’s Raffi Torres.
The Canucks ended the night out-shooting the visiting team but outside of a few stretches in the second period it never felt like they were the better team. Once San Jose took the lead on a Dan Boyle goal mid way through the final period the Canucks seemed to fade away and ride out the rest of the game.
The loss was Vancouver’s fifth straight home playoff loss going back to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. They now have to climb back into a series against a club that has stolen home ice advantage from them and were 17-2-5 at home this season. The task just got tougher.
The lack of offense seems to indicate a disturbing trend for Vancouver. The Canucks could not muster much offense in their last two playoff series against Boston and Los Angeles — both losses. If they continue to struggle against the Sharks you have to start wondering if the club is built for the playoffs.
There has been a lot of column space dedicated to speculating about whether or not the Canucks have enough grit. Last night they came out physical and threw the body at the Sharks. Grit was not the problem – lack of offense was.
Dale Weise and Jannik Hansen led the Canucks with five shots a piece. Hansen taking that many shots is fine, but when Weise is leading your team in shots on goal for the night you know you had some issues. Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for four shots, Alex Burrows had none and Ryan Kesler had two. That’s simply not enough.
Ryan Kesler was absent from the team’s morning skate on Wednesday which raised some eyebrows. The skate was optional so on the surface it made sense he skip it. When the game started it was obvious that Kesler was struggling physically and did not play with the speed or intensity we are used to seeing out of him.
He held his own for most of the game, although his ice time and still managed over 20 minutes but if Kesler is not full strength the offense will struggle. This has become a yearly rite of spring for Vancouver. Kesler was not healthy during last year’s opening round loss to the Kings nor was he full strength in the 2011 finals against the Bruins.
Without a healthy Kesler the Sharks can focus on shutting down the Sedin line and not feel the second or third line is a threat.
If Vancouver is going to fight back in this series they will need to make some adjustments. Head coach Alain Vigneault played center Derek Roy on the third line last night. Earlier in the year Roy and Chris Higgins seemed to have tremendous chemistry and created a lot of scoring opportunities. For some reason Vigneault split them up for Game 1 and Higgins played with Kesler.
The Canucks should reunite the two. Even if that means putting back together the Kesler-Roy-Higgins experiment that they tried near the end of the year. That trio had it’s moments and right now the Canucks need a legitimate threat from the second line – something they didn’t have last night.
The series is far from over but Vancouver will need to punch it up if they want to win. There is a lot on the line for the Canucks here as a loss may lead to big changes with the club. Beyond that it will be further evidence that perhaps the window for Vancouver is closer to being shut than we’ve felt it was.
The Sharks are not hte best team in the league and can be had, but the Canucks have to take it — the Sharks are not going to give it to them.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.