The Canucks have played without defenceman Dan Hamhuis for the last month, with mixed results. The steady defender has been out for ten games, since suffering a lower-body injury on November 20 versus the Anaheim Ducks.
The team was playing well immediately after the departure of Hamhuis, as the Canucks went on a 5-1 stretch in the six games that followed his injury. However they have lost four straight since then the cracks on defence are starting to show.
While Jim Benning has been praised for bringing in enough talent up front so that the Canucks have the ability to roll four lines, the defence is starting to show its lack of depth. Since the injury to Hamhuis, the Canucks have only had one reliable pairing on defence: Chris Tanev and Alex Edler.
Tanev has continued to show off his high hockey IQ, with his ability to make a strong first pass while minimizing mistakes on defence. He is probably one of the leagues most underrated defencemen.
Edler has shown a resurgence since last season’s debacle where he looked lost under John Tortorella. While his numbers on offence this season aren’t eye-popping, Edler is making smart plays defensively, accompanied by strong possession numbers.
The pairing of Tanev and Edler is the only defensive pair on the team with positive possession statistics. Both defenders have a Corsi percentage above 53%, while most of the other Canucks are under 50% Corsi on the season.
However over the last ten games, only two Canucks defenders have negative statistics for a similar category.
With Hamhuis out of the line-up, the Canucks expected Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa to be the second defensive pairing. Sbisa, who has shown inconsistency throughout his first season with the Canucks, was situated in the top four due to Hamhuis’ injury.
The results have not been good. Bieksa and Sbisa have looked lost at times in their own zone throughout this recent ten game stretch. At times they have been hemmed in their own end while constantly chasing the puck. In the most recent game against the New York Rangers, both defencemen were caught making ill-advised pinches which led to Ranger goals.
If you watch the first two minutes of the highlights, Bieksa makes two pinches in the offensive zone, while Sbisa makes one. Out of the three pinches, two of them led to goals for the Rangers. While the Rangers deserve credit for exploiting this strategy from Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins, the two defencemen still need to make better reads on the play. Their errors of judgement took the Canucks out of the game not even halfway through the first period.
The surprising defencemen on the Canucks for Fenwick percentage is Yannick Weber. The Swiss defenceman came into the season as the Canucks seventh defender, but has quietly played quite well in his bottom pairing role.
Compare him to fellow countryman Sbisa, since both defenders have played 25 games. Weber has better possession numbers, more points, and a better plus/minus.
It should be noted Weber has played against weaker competition than Sbisa so far this season, but his stats suggest that he perhaps deserves an elevated role since Bieksa and Sbisa aren’t getting it done as top four defenders.
The main problem with promoting Weber is that it could disrupt the balance on defence if Desjardins wants his defencemen to play on their natural side. Since Bieksa and Weber are both right-handed defenders, they aren’t likely to play together. Assuming that the pairing of Tanev and Edler won’t be dislodged, that leaves only Sbisa and Stanton as partners for Weber.
Desjardins did shake-up his defence for the last period of the game versus the Rangers, as Stanton and Bieksa were paired together, while Sbisa and Weber teamed up. A change was needed after some poor performances on defence.
There isn’t an easy answer for how the Canucks can improve their defensive play without Hamhuis in the line-up. However giving Weber, a positive possession player, a shot at more minutes is worth a try if the Canucks defence continues to flounder.