The Vancouver Canucks opened their season Thursday night in San Jose, with this season starting much like the last campaign finished, as Vancouver lost to the Sharks 4-1. Some of the takeaways from this first game looked depressingly similar to the problems suffered by the Canucks during their playoff sweep last spring. Though it was only the first game of a long season, some of the main issues need to be addressed moving forward if Vancouver is to have success this season.
Too Many Dumb Penalties
Just as in the playoffs, a steady parade of Canuck players heading into the penalty box stymied the team’s offense. Vancouver committed eight minor infractions, preventing the team from developing any sort of offensive flow or consistency. Penalties were committed by some of Vancouver’s offensive leaders, including Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler and Jason Garrison, not to mention a Too Many Men penalty caused by Henrik Sedin playing the puck too soon. With some of their top players in the box and only four skaters on the ice, Vancouver managed a paltry 22 sots on goal, to 35 for the Sharks.
On the bright side, Vancouver managed to kill off all eight of the penalties, including an impressive 5 on 3 kill in the middle of the second period when the game was tied. As promised, Coach John Tortorella used the Sedins to kill penalties, and they did a solid job, in conjunction with usual stalwarts Alex Burrows, Kelser and Chis Higgins. Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Tanev provided stellar work on the back end for the P.K.
Very Little Offense from the Top Lines
The Kelser-Higgins-Hansen line would be a great third line, but as a scoring line it is not enough. Jannik Hansen, recently rewarded with a contract extension, had zero shots on goal and the line as a whole never seemed to generate any sustained offensive pressure. They are strong defensively and create turnovers, but history tells us not to expect to many goals unless Kelser returns to his pre-injuries scoring prowess.
The Sedins and Burrows were also not as dangerous as hope for, with Daniel and Burrows each failing to generate a shot on the net. The line looked sharp at times cycling the puck to create some chances, but the finish just was not there.
This lack of offense continues a disturbing trend from the playoff series against the Sharks when San Jose out shot the Canucks 148-124, and neither Daniel nor Henrik scored a goal.
The Bottom Six Bottom Out
Vancouver’s bottom six forwards spent very little time on the ice and even less time generating any sort of offense. The third line of David Booth, Brad Richardson and Mike Santorelli managed only two shots on goal and the fourth line of Dale Weise, Tom Sestito and Zach Dalpe averaged about 4 minutes of ice time each. Tortorella is known for leaning on his best players, but more output will be needed to keep the top lines from completely burning out by mid-season.
Some of this problem will be addressed when Zack Kassian returns from suspension and perhaps when Jordan Schroeder heals from his injury. This will allow for some players like Higgins and Hansen potentially to move down in the lineup and provide a little more depth to the bottom lines.
No Hangover for Luongo
One of the few bright spots in the game was the play of Roberto Luongo. After all the drama of the off season, Luongo looked sharp despite giving up four goals (it is especially hard to fault any goalie on a 2 on 0 breakaway). It also helps that Cory Schneider’s preseason success was not duplicated in his debut for New Jersey. October has never been one of Luongo’s strongest months, and the goaltender admitted in a recent tweet:
Happy October everyone!!! Or as I like to call it: How did that go in?
— Strombone (@strombone1) October 1, 2013
Luongo kept Vancouver close for most of the game, and given the offensive woes that might be present throughout the season, he is going to need to be sharp. If Roberto can keep up his strong play, he has to be seen as leading contender to once again backstop the Canadian team at the Olympics in Sochi.
San Jose is an excellent team, and obviously one game is not enough to write off a club for the season. But some of the flaws that were expected to be present for this team were very apparent Thursday night. If the top lines fail to generate more shots (and goals) and the bottom six does not make any positive contributions, Canucks fans could be in for a very long season and General Manager Mike Gillis will be looking for another job.
Glenn covers the Canucks for The Hockey Writers. Follow me on twitter @glennkuper for opinions about hockey, the Canucks, and Seattle sports.