Welcome to Canucks Weekly, where you can catch up on the past week of the Vancouver Canucks throughout the 2019-20 season. From trending topics to news and notes, this is your weekly update on all things Canucks.
The regular season has begun, and the Canucks are slow off the starting blocks. The road woes have continued from last season, as well as the struggling power play. If they hope to make the playoffs this season, those two things have to change.
First, in their season opener, they lost to the Edmonton Oilers, 3-2, then followed that up with a frustrating 3-0 shutout loss to the Calgary Flames. The power play was punchless in both games and the opponent’s star players outplayed the Canucks’ star players. I’m sure the next few days will be full of video work and intense practices, as they don’t play until their home opener on Wednesday.
Here are some notable stories and headlines that came out of the first week of the regular season.
Hughes a Stand Out
Look out everyone, Quinn Hughes has arrived in the National Hockey League. Despite the team losing the first two games, he was a standout in both of them. His defensive game was an adventure at times, but his dynamic skating and rover-like tendencies more than made up for it. In the season opener against the Oilers, he played over 23 minutes, then followed that up with another 21 minutes against the Flames.
Head coach Travis Green clearly trusts Hughes to play regular minutes on the blue line. However, not enough to take over the first power play unit. More on that later. Playing primarily with veteran Chris Tanev, he has looked comfortable as a 19-year-old in the NHL. The more he plays and learns the game, the more impactful he will become.
We got a glimpse of how dominant Hughes can be when he controlled an entire shift against the Oilers. The Canucks didn’t score, but he was the primary reason the shift lasted as long as it did. This team has not had a defenceman that could do that himself in a long time.
Overall, the first two games have been the Hughes Show. Of all the defencemen, he has been the most impressive. Digging into the analytics, his Corsi For percentage (CF%) backs this up. Over the two games, he has a 61.5 CF%, which leads all Canucks defencemen. It’s early, but he has been the best defenceman at controlling possession. Of all the issues the team currently has, he is definitely not one of them.
Punchless Power Play
Well, what do you know, the power play is struggling again. In the first two games, the Canucks have gone 0 for 10 and have looked disorganized in the process. Missed passes, broken sticks, blocked shots and being too stationary have all played into the power outage. Alex Edler, who shone in the preseason, has looked lost on the first power play unit.
The only bright spot has been Hughes on the second unit. Despite assistant coach Newell Brown announcing that he will be on the first unit once the regular season commenced, he has not seen a minute there yet. Someone has to remind him of these comments.
These first two games should be evidence enough that Edler is not the right defenceman for the first unit. He’s too static and the Canucks seem to be trying to set up his shot rather than the lethal one-timers of Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Edler has never been known as a shooting threat up top, and he’s not as dynamic or mobile as Hughes. Brown would be wise to get him off that unit.
The fact is, the power play has not been good enough so far this season. It’s only been two games, so the panic button should not be pressed yet. But it’s concerning to see the same things happening again. As Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” The first unit power play has not worked with Edler, why keep going to it? It’s time for Hughes to get the keys to the kingdom. The man advantage has already hit rock bottom, it can only go up from here.
The importance of a good power play cannot be overstated. You have to just go back to the last game against the Flames. The Canucks got an early power play 33 seconds in. Instead of putting on pressure and scoring a goal, the Flames had a strong penalty kill and built momentum off of it. That led to all the aggressive forechecking and extended offensive zone time. If the Canucks would have scored and gone up 1-0, it’s a totally different game. That’s the power of the power play. No pun intended.
Top Line Missing in Action
The power play has not been the only thing missing in action so far this season. The top line of Micheal Ferland, Pettersson, and Boeser joined the missing persons list as well. Over the two games, they only had one point, 14 shots and were a combined minus-five. That’s not good enough, especially when the opposition’s top players are blowing you away.
In the first game against the Oilers on Wednesday, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combined for two goals and four points including the game-winner. Draisaitl was also dominant all night. Then on Saturday, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm combined for three goals and six points, also including the game-winner. Again, they were the dominant line all night. Allowing that type of production is not a recipe for success.
In order for the Canucks to be successful this season, they have to either match the production of the opposition’s top players or shut them down. It sounds simple, but that’s the reality of it. Sure, it’s early, but this trend has to change soon.
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. Pettersson was noticeable at times with his quick hands sifting through a few Flames in the third period. He also had a grade-A chance when his stick broke on one of the later power plays. Boeser also had some good looks in the final period as well. Finally, Ferland was physical all night but looked lost at times with a line that likes to rush, rather than chip and chase.
Now as I write this, JT Miller has joined the top line, and Ferland is with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. It appears the line juggling has begun in the top six. It was only a matter of time before this happened. Miller could be a good complement to the line as he can play a rush game as well as a physical game. Ferland’s game is also well suited to play with Horvat and Pearson on a heavy forecheck line. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the home opener.
3 Stars of the Week
In a week where the Canucks did not gain any points and were shut out once, it’s hard to pick out three stars. But I will endeavor to do so in the first edition of the three stars of the week.
1. Quinn Hughes
Hughes was probably the most noticeable defenceman in both games this week. Sure, he was manhandled by Draisaitl in the first game against the Oilers, but even the most seasoned NHL defenceman has problems stopping him. He also had problems defending McDavid on the game-winning goal. But again, not directly his fault, as Brandon Sutter turned the puck over seconds before. McDavid is also the best player in the league.
Despite those struggles, he was one of the bright spots in two losses this week. Look for him to continue to improve and adjust as he plays more. He will eventually learn the tendencies of other players and his defensive game will get better. However, his offensive game is already amongst the best in the NHL. He doesn’t hesitate to jump into the play and try things most defencemen are afraid to do. The Hughes Show has just begun, and we are front and center.
2. Tyler Myers
Despite the turnover in the game against the Flames on Saturday, Myers was another bright spot in the first two games. In his defence, the turnover was caused by the pressure of Gaudreau’s stick, not Myers’ lack of defensive awareness. Sure, he could have made a safer play up the boards or behind his net, but the fact is, it was Gaudreau’s pressure that caused the turnover.
Myers almost made up for it with a great read on the next shift to jump up into the play and get a point-blank chance on Flames goaltender David Rittich. He followed that up with a few more offensive forays. All of this to say, we just have to accept the good with the bad when watching Myers.
People will be quick to compare him to Erik Gudbranson or Derrick Pouliot, but the reality is, he will provide much more offence than they did to combat the defensive errors he makes. He’s already made the Canucks’ defence more of a threat offensively this season.
3. Jacob Markstrom
Even though he lost his two starts this week, Markstrom was very solid. All three goals scored on Wednesday were great shots, nearly unstoppable by most goaltenders.
Then, the two goals scored on Saturday were direct results of turnovers by the defence, so you cannot really blame him for those. He kept the Canucks in the game in the first period and kept the score within striking distance throughout. He was not the reason for the losses this week. He clearly has picked up from where he left off last season.
The Week Ahead
The Canucks schedule to start the season is very light, as they only play twice this coming week. First, it’s the home opener against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. This will be a marquee matchup, not because of the opponent, but because of the events before the game. The team will finally announce a captain.
Reports indicate that it will be Horvat, who has been in-waiting since the beginning of last season. All I have to say is, it’s about time. The hope is that Henrik Sedin will hand over the captaincy in a ceremony minutes before puck drop. I don’t think there will be a dry eye in the house.
After that, the Canucks don’t play again until Saturday when former head coach Alain Vigneault and his Philadelphia Flyers come to town. Hopefully, they have a win under their belt by that time and the next Canucks Weekly can be more positive. Until then, enjoy the games!