Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

What Went Wrong: Vancouver Canucks

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Of all the profiles done here to cover what caused the demise of a team in the playoffs, there hasn’t been one so plainly simple to draw up and point fingers at what went wrong. The Canucks issues were ultimately easy to figure out, their failure in the Stanley Cup finals was one that saw them go down without so much as a fight in Game 7.

What went wrong for the Vancouver Canucks? The paint-by-numbers crime scene investigation is pretty simple to follow.

1. Offense? What offense?
Eight goals in seven games in the finals. That’s all the Canucks could muster against Tim Thomas and the Bruins defense. Sure there was some bad luck and shots off the post but there were fanned on shots at open nets, inability to corral the puck in scoring opportunities and no wherewithal to fight harder against the Bruins to go for the goal.

The struggles of Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin in this series are going to haunt them until they’re able to win a Stanley Cup for themselves. Henrik finishes the Stanley Cup finals with just one goal and no assists while Daniel had one goal and one assist. For one former MVP and a current MVP candidate that’s patently inexcusable.

When you’re two of the best players in the game and your team’s fate rests on your production – you have to do better. The intimidation factor Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg threw at them with their physical play and positioning made them shy away from corners and pull back on their attack. Someone has to remind them that there is no fear in the Stanley Cup finals dojo.

2. Oh, Roberto
When your team isn’t scoring goals, your role as a goalie is to hold down the fort flawlessly to give your team that slight opening of being able to win games by scoring just one or two goals if possible. Roberto Luongo was able to do that twice in the finals shutting out the Bruins. He was able to hold things together well enough in Game 2 to open the door for Vancouver to come back from being down 2-1. In the other four games he lost, though, things did not go so well.

Luongo was pulled from two games in Boston while allowing a total of 15 goals on the road in parts of three games including a full 60 minutes worth of allowing eight goals in Game 3. Coming up that small in a road game is just not the mark of a championship team. Seeing Luongo get beaten in Game 7 by a great shot by Patrice Bergeron in the first period and then subsequently beaten thanks to a pair of freaky goals helped serve up all the psyche crushing a goalie needs to lose.

While no one will recall Luongo’s great games thanks to the team losing, his effort in the games he lost just was not on par with his play in Games 1, 2, and 5. That brand of inconsistency, even in spite of the Canucks inability to score, is maddening.

3. The disappearance of the vaunted power play
The Canucks power play was one of their strengths all season long scoring 24.3% of the time during the 82-game haul of the regular season. In prior rounds of the playoffs they were solid again scoring 28.3% of the time with the man advantage. In the Stanley Cup finals though, things changed for the worse.

Vancouver went a paltry 2-33 on the power play in the finals helping drop their power play percentage overall in the playoffs to 20.4%. While that number will still look gaudy their 6% effectiveness in the finals is what will stick out like a sore thumb. In three different games in the finals their power play was morbidly terrible.

In Game 1 they went 0-6 but still won. In Games 3 and 4 however, their misery with the extra man hurt them badly. In Game 3 the power play was 0-8 and in Game 4 it was another 0-6 performance. In games where they needed goals by the bunches, they were afforded the opportunity to score them and failed miserably. That lack of execution and inability to produce was their ultimate undoing.

4. A lack of defensive cohesion
Coming into this series the Canucks defense was one of their points of pride and strength. As the series wore down, it began to be a microcosm of what they dealt with all through the season as injuries and suspensions took their toll. Dan Hamhuis’ Game 1 injury proved to be a killer as his defensive ability as a top four guy was lost and forced others into roles they’re not accustomed to.

Aaron Rome’s foolish hit on Nathan Horton not only ignited the Bruins but further weakened his own team’s depth forcing coach Alain Vigneault to figure out whether Keith Ballard or Chris Tanev was going to hurt them less. Having to rely on Andrew Alberts for key defensive stopping minutes isn’t really anyone’s ideal solution to winning games.

Add in Christian Ehrhoff’s bum shoulder and turnovers all over the ice as well as Alex Edler’s two broken fingers he played with in Game 7 and you’re left with a blue line corps that was stretched to its limits and gassed when it was all said and done. With so much shuffling even the Canucks’ tremendous depth was tested to the limits. Having these things come up in the finals where even the smallest mistakes get magnified made life impossible for Vancouver against a very tight and dedicated Bruins team.

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We know everyone will be eager to blow up parts of the Canucks and will be quick to throw certain big name players under the bus for not performing, but vast changes aren’t needed here. This team will learn by losing on this stage. Whether or not they’re psychologically capable of dealing with such a crushing defeat is the question here. Professional athletes should be able to bounce back from this but sometimes getting back to the Stanley Cup finals can prove to be just as hard as winning it. Coming out of the Western Conference, that road is always a bit trickier and physically demanding.

Vancouver will again be a top team, but until they get a bit tougher mentally and learn to knock it off with the overly dramatic play to win calls from the officials, life will be that much harder for them.

Goalie nods: With Lundqvist struggling, Raanta goes back-to-back

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 29: Antti Raanta #32 and Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrate the Rangers 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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No shortage of storylines at play when the Rangers take on the ‘Hawks at the United Center this evening.

First, the big one — Antti Raanta, fresh off stopping 17 of 18 shots in a win over Winnipeg last night, will get back-to-back starts in place of the struggling Henrik Lundqvist.

“Of course you want to play, but Antti’s playing well,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I know I need to raise my level a little bit.”

Lundqvist is 3-4-1 with a 3.05 GAA and .902 save percentage in his past eight starts and, as Brough wrote about this morning, admitted some “bad decisions” have been costing him.

Raanta, meanwhile, is 6-1-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .932 save percentage in his last eight starts.

From a personal perspective, there’s a big narrative at play for Raanta as well. This will mark the first time he’s faced Chicago since being traded to New York in 2015. The Finnish ‘tender made his NHL debut for the ‘Hawks and spent two seasons with the team, but was supplanted by Scott Darling as the club’s No. 2 behind Corey Crawford en route to the ’15 Stanley Cup win.

(Raanta’s time in Chicago ended oddly, you may recall. A Finnish-language publication ran a piece in which Raanta appeared to be critical of the ‘Hawks, followed by Raanta denying he said what was reported. The writer that conducted the interview said the quotes were legit, but needed context — and then, just to put a bow on it, Raanta’s name was left off the Stanley Cup. Chicago insisted that decision had nothing to do with his remarks, though.)

For the ‘Hawks, Darling gets the start.

Elsewhere…

Braden Holtby gets a night off, as the Caps will start Philipp Grubauer (for the first time since Nov. 25) in Buffalo. Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres.

— No surprises from Columbus, who will start the in-form Sergei Bobrovsky yet again. The host Red Wings have Jimmy Howard back in the fold but will continue to ride Petr Mrazek, who made 31 saves in a win over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Cory Schneider played last night against Montreal, so Keith Kinkaid goes for the Devils. He’ll face off against Jake Allen and the Blues, who also played last night.

— After Jonas Gustavsson was beaten six times in last night’s loss in Philly, Cam Talbot is in for the Oilers. He’ll face off against Devan Dubnyk, who continues to play lights-out for the Wild.

Martin Jones will start for the Sharks in an all-California battle in Anaheim. The Ducks will give Jonathan Bernier a shot at redemption, as he’ll start for the first time since allowing eight goals in a loss to Calgary on Sunday.

The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Erik Gudbranson got his first goal as a Vancouver Canuck last night in Tampa.

It was not the most beautiful goal ever scored, coming halfway through the first period, after Gudbranson wristed a point shot wide. The puck bounced off the boards, hit Ben Bishop‘s left pad, and slid into the net, giving the Canucks a surprising 2-0 lead.

Vancouver would go on to win, 5-1, handing the Bolts an embarrassing loss to a team they should’ve been able to beat.

But the night was a welcome reprieve for Gudbranson, who’s “struggled a little” since coming to Vancouver in an offseason trade with Florida. The 24-year-old defenseman is a minus-13 in 27 games, partly due to his team’s lack of goal-scoring, but also because of his own inconsistent play.

“I personally struggled a little with the new systems and adapting to it and finding a way within that system to play physical,” he told the Vancouver Sun recently. “I want to be tough to play against. I want guys to know they’re going to get hit if they come to my side. For a while there, I was struggling to find a way to have that presence.”

Gudbranson (1G, 4A) has been paired exclusively with young Ben Hutton, and those two have been playing big minutes with Alex Edler and Chris Tanev out injured.

It’s actually a good opportunity for the Canucks to see what they’ve really got, because Gudbranson is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights. This is his sixth season in the NHL, so he only needs one more season before he’s into his unrestricted years. His current cap hit is $3.5 million, and he probably won’t be looking to take a pay cut.

What to do with Gudbranson represents a huge decision for Canucks GM Jim Benning, who sent a good prospect in Jared McCann, as well as a second-round draft pick, to Florida to get the former third overall pick. Signing Gudbranson to a long-term contract is one option. But another has to be flipping him for help elsewhere, especially if Tanev isn’t going anywhere.

“We have depth on defense,” Benning said recently. “We’ve rebuilt our defense. (Nikita) Tryamkin is 22 years old, (Troy) Stecher is 22 years old. (Alex) Edler at 30 is our oldest defenseman, so we have a young, good group back there. We have depth back there. So if we look to make a move, we’d have to use some of our depth on the blue line to add a forward.”

Gudbranson, Tanev, and Stecher all play the right side, and Tryamkin can play it, too. Edler, Hutton, and Luca Sbisa play the left side. So does Olli Juolevi, who could be in the NHL next season.

So, do the Canucks see Gudbranson as a top-four defenseman? Or, is he a bottom-pairing guy behind Tanev and Stecher? Because if he’s a bottom-pairing guy, it’ll be hard to justify paying him big money on a long-term deal.

In fact, that’s why the Panthers traded him. It’s not because they didn’t like him. They just didn’t like him enough. They wanted puck-movers like Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, and Gudbranson is about as stay-at-home as it gets in today’s fast-paced NHL.

To be sure, there is a lot to like about Gudbranson. He’s big and he’s tough and he sticks up for his teammates. He’s always got a positive attitude.

“He’s a player that, in the analytics, maybe things don’t always measure out like you’d want them to,” Benning conceded back in September. “But as far as the intangibles, I really think he’s going to help our back end and our whole team.”

But again, how much is that worth?

Because in the salary-cap era, where every dollar counts, teams have to be very careful about overpaying for “intangibles.” The Canucks do have some cap space for next season, but remember that Bo Horvat is a pending RFA whom they’d like to get signed long term. And let’s face it, Vancouver isn’t good enough to waste cap space. If the money’s not going to good use, it needs to go elsewhere.

Trade: Holland, who wanted out of Toronto, acquired by Coyotes

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 18:  Peter Holland #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs stretches in the warm-up prior to play against the New York Rangers in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 18, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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In late November, the agent for Maple Leafs forward Peter Holland confirmed the club was trying to move his client, amid reports Holland was displeased with his playing time under head coach Mike Babcock.

On Friday, Holland got what he wanted.

Per Sportsnet, Holland has been traded to Arizona for a conditional draft pick. Coyotes GM John Chayka has since confirmed the trade, to AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan.

Holland has been a bit player in Toronto this year, appearing in just eight games while averaging 10:43 TOI per night. He hasn’t suited up since getting just over nine minutes in a win over the Caps on Nov. 26.

The 25-year-old has been with the team since the middle of the 2013-14 season and has been fairly consistent in his production during that time, recording 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 65 games last year. That came after a 25-point (11 goal, 14 assist) performance in 62 games the year prior.

Holland’s production was enough to get him a one-year, $1.3 million extension from the Leafs over the summer.

In Arizona, he’ll have a shot at replacing some of the minutes at center that became available with Brad Richardson’s injury.

 

 

McLellan calls out ‘red-rotten’ performances after loss in Philly

Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan stands on the bench behind Connor McDavid, left, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during the second period of a pre-season NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The Oilers blew a pair of two-goal leads in last night’s 6-5 loss to the Flyers and, not surprisingly, head coach Todd McLellan wasn’t happy with a number of performances.

“If you score five, you should be able to win,” McLellan said on Friday, per the Oilers’ Twitter account. “There were some individuals who were red-rotten.”

It’s not hard to speculate who McLellan was referring to.

Defenseman Oscar Klefbom scored his fourth goal of the year, but was on the ice for five of Philly’s six goals, and finished minus-4. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was minus-3 with three giveaways, and went scoreless.

McLellan was also displeased with his club’s lack of discipline.

“One of the things we didn’t want to do was put them on the power play, and we put them on the power play continually,” he said following the game, per NHL.com. “Whether they score or not — I thought our penalty-killers did a tremendous job, [but the Flyers] gain a lot of momentum and energy and belief off of that.”

Rookie Jesse Puljujarvi took a hooking and holding penalty in a 10-minute span in the first period. The Flyers were unable to capitalize on either power play opportunity, but did seem to generate some energy — as McLellan alluded to — and Puljujarvi was a virtual non-factor for the remainder of the night, finishing with just 7:51 TOI.

The Oilers are back in action tonight in Minnesota, and are still atop the Pacific Division, so there’s hardly a feeling of panic. That said, they have surrendered 10 goals in their last two games.

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose