What Is Cooling the Canucks Hot Start?

The Vancouver Canucks dreamy start to the 2018-19 season is feeling like a distant memory in the month of November. After winning nine of their first 15 games this year, the Canucks have faltered greatly by going on a six-game losing streak and getting defeated in seven of their last eight games. Some of the shortcomings that have curbed the Canucks in recent seasons is coming back to bite them this month.

Too Many Goals Against

This has been a lingering issue for the Canucks since the 2015-16 season. In that campaign, Vancouver finished with a league-worst negative-52 goal differential. They followed it up the next year with a differential of  minus-62 and then recorded a negative-42 mark last season. And while their offense was flying high through the first 15 games this year, those defensive struggles have been on full display since the opening night puck drop.

Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom has been the beneficiary of a poor defence to start the 2018-19 season. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Vancouver currently holds a goal differential of negative-14 this season, as they have scored 70 goals and allowed 84 in the process. Their goal differential is by far the worst of any team in a playoff position so far this year, as the New York Rangers place behind them with a minus-two rate. And yes, the Canucks are in a playoff spot right now at third in the Pacific Division behind the Calgary Flames and the top-seeded San Jose Sharks.

There have been a plethora of defensive lapses this season from Vancouver’s blue line. Too many times they have given up easy goals due to missed hits and assignments, poor defensive awareness, and miscommunication between defensemen. The Travis Green-coached squad had enough offensive firepower to mask their defensive deficiencies to open the year, but that has subsided over the last eight games.

Lack of Secondary Scoring

There is no doubt the Canucks offense is spearheaded by rookie sensation Elias Pettersson. The young Swede has been sensational through his 17 games played this season, as he leads Vancouver with 12 goals and is tied for a team-high 19 points. But the 20-year-old can not be asked to carry this attack on his own shoulders.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson has lived up to the first-round billing so far in his rookie season. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

Pettersson has received a small portion of help from other forwards. Canucks centre Bo Horvat also has 19 points on the year, which includes 10 goals. After a shaky start to his young career, forward Jake Virtanen has emerged as a viable goal-scoring option with eight lamplighters in 23 games.

But aside from those three, Vancouver’s offense consists of skaters with mediocre scoring abilities. Forwards Markus Granlund and Nikolay Goldobin have shown occasional flashes of brilliance, recording 10 points each. But there has not been enough of those highlight moments from the pair, and with another star scorer injured, the Canucks need all the help they can from the rest of their forwards.

Brock Boeser’s Injury Hurting the Offense

The aforementioned injured forward is Brock Boeser, last season’s rookie phenom in Vancouver. The Minnesota-born sniper is out with a groin injury and is considered “week-to-week”. His health issues have kept him off the ice over the last eight games, which have been tumultuous for the Canucks.

Brock Boeser #6 of the Vancouver Canucks
Taken during his standout rookie season last year, Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser has made a positive impact on their offense for the majority of his Vancouver tenure. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Before the injury, Boeser was having another productive season. The 2017-18 Calder Memorial Trophy finalist recorded four goals and seven assists for 11 points in 13 games played. His numbers may not have been dazzling, but racking up just under one-point-per game is still valuable. Boeser’s presence alone opened up more opportunities for Vancouver’s top-two scorers because he is such a lethal goal-scoring threat.

Boeser’s absence has had a trickle-down effect on the entire offense. Without the 21-year-old forward, the Canucks do not have a dynamic goal-scoring trio with him, Horvat, and Pettersson. That one-two-three punch was a significant reason why Vancouver excelled to begin the year. Not having three legitimate point producers leaves a glaring hole in their attack, as no other Canucks forward has truly stepped up to fill the void left by Boeser.

Canucks fans should not have to wait much longer before the electric goal-scorer returns to action. But if Vancouver’s defensive miscues and underwhelming secondary scoring continues, then the 2018-19 season could be much more arduous than expected once the campaign began.