The Vancouver Canucks have broken records en route to their 0-3-1 start to the 2022-23 season – and they are not of the positive variety. First, they set an NHL record by losing three straight while holding a multiple-goal lead at some point in the game. Then, they extended it by losing four and in the process set a franchise record for losses to start a season before playing a home opener.
The easiest people to blame would be head coach Bruce Boudreau and his assistants Mike Yeo, Jason King and Trent Cull. But it’s not totally on them. As Satiar Shah and Dan Riccio discussed on the Canucks pregame show on Sportsnet before the Columbus Blue Jackets game on Oct. 18, it’s not like they are telling them to go out there in the third period and start turning the puck over and forget to play basic defence. There has to be a point where the players are held accountable for how they play on the ice. After all, the coaches are just behind the bench with x’s and o’s on a whiteboard. They don’t control how their players play or react to situations in their own zone or on special teams. That’s the responsibility of the forwards and defencemen who are on the ice.
With that, let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why the Canucks are sitting here looking at a record-breaking 0-3-1 start and why coaching is not this team’s biggest problem.
Lack of Team Defence When Holding a Lead
One thing the Canucks can hang their hat on is the fact that they’re starting games on time and jumping ahead of teams – something they couldn’t do at all last season. Unfortunately, despite scoring first in all but one of their games so far and holding leads in the third period, they still don’t have any wins to show for it. Most of the time starting with a 1-0 lead and dictating the pace while your opponent chases you is a recipe for success. Apparently not when it comes to Canucks as they seem to self-destruct when they get the lead, especially when it inflates to a margin greater than one.
In every game so far this season, the Canucks have held a lead either going into or during the final frame and every time they have let the other team tie it or pull ahead to eventually come away with the victory. It’s not the coaching staff or one player that deserves the blame for this either, it’s the entire team and how they play defence as a five-man unit. Yes, individual players – J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson come to mind – have committed egregious turnovers at inopportune times, but it should be on everyone to lock it down and play sound defence to guide a lead to the finish line.
It hasn’t only been the turnovers. It’s also missed assignments, getting mesmerized by the puck (or a player), and simply not working hard enough on the backcheck that have led to the hole the Canucks currently find themselves in. Against the Capitals, it was allowing Connor Sheary to skate unchecked to the side of the goal to tip in a pass from Alex Ovechkin, and then against the Blue Jackets, it was giving “Johnny Hockey” too much space to wind it up and eventually score on a wraparound after Spencer Martin lost his net. All things that could have been avoided with better team defence or just sharper focus from everyone on the ice.
Canucks’ Special Teams Struggling…Again
One sore spot that has transferred over from last season is the Canucks’ struggles with their special teams. Currently holding the 31st-ranked penalty kill at 57.7 percent and the 24th-ranked power play at 11.1 percent (with two shorthanded goals against), it’s been one of the reasons why they haven’t been able to hold onto leads. With a well-timed power play goal or a key penalty kill, the Canucks could be sitting 4-0 instead of 0-3-1.
The penalty kill, which was supposed to be better with the additions of Curtis Lazar and Dakota Joshua, has yet to improve from the dumpster fire that was last season when they finished tied for 31st with the Seattle Kraken. In total, they have allowed six power play goals and have only one game (against the Blue Jackets) where they came away with a perfect PK. That’s just not good enough if they hope to be a playoff team at the end of the season. Hopefully, now that Tyler Myers and Ilya Mikheyev are back in the lineup, it will start to get back to a level of respectability.
As for the power play, it’s been hit-and-miss. The first unit which is usually comprised of Miller, Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Andrei Kuzmenko and Quinn Hughes has had its moments, but they have also been guilty of turning the puck over and allowing shorthanded goals. The second unit barely gets any ice time and they haven’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard either. Overall, they only have two power play goals, one by Miller and one by Kuzmenko. With the fifth-most opportunities so far, the Canucks should have way more than two goals. Again, if their execution was better, they would have their first win by now.
Firing Boudreau Will Not Fix the Canucks
Surprisingly, the idea of firing Boudreau and changing coaches for the second straight season has already been bandied about on social media and various podcasts. The thing is, that won’t fix what’s ailing the Canucks. While some of his decision-making like scratching Conor Garland against the Blue Jackets has been questionable, it’s far too early to go down that road. He is also not the primary reason why they are struggling to finish games on the right side of the scoreboard.
As mentioned, it’s on the players to execute the system laid out by their coaches. Boudreau can’t control their decision-making on the ice, hockey IQ or effort level on the back check. He can’t force them to finish prime scoring chances on the power play or make the right play defensively on special teams and at even strength. That’s a problem only the players can solve. Hopefully, it begins in Minnesota when they face off against the Wild later tonight (Oct. 20), who are also looking for their first win.
Fortunately, president Jim Rutherford is patient for now, but if the losses continue into the homestand on Oct. 22 and beyond, he might be forced to make a change. Except it should start with the roster, not the coach.