Yeah, yeah, the Vancouver guy’s writing another blog post on Vancouver. Well, I’m sorry, it’s not my fault the Canucks have gone from one of the NHL’s best teams to one of the NHL’s worst, all in such a short time. Plus, I think I’ve watched enough of this team over the years to add some decent perspective.
So since John Tortorella’s such a hot topic, and general manager Mike Gillis doesn’t want to comment on his coaching situation, lest he “lend credibility to what’s out there with bloggers,” here are three things this blogger has noticed about the Canucks under Torts:
1. They can’t move the puck
Specifically, from their end of the ice and into the attacking zone. Which is important in hockey, and also something the Canucks used to do really well during their salad days with Alain Vigneault behind the bench.
Mike Babcock — a good coach, we can all agree, right? — is always talking about the importance of getting the puck moving out of the defensive end in order to transition quickly through the neutral zone and into the opponent’s end, WITH POSSESSION.
“The game’s real simple, the more time you spend in your zone, the less time you spend in their zone, the more you dump the puck because you got no speed on the rush,” Babcock said last season.
“If you’re efficient coming out and move the puck and you do it right once, you’re coming with speed, you don’t have to dump the puck, you probably get some sort of entry, or at least you give up possession and get it right back. Dumping the puck is awful when you’re just dumping it in and changing. You spend the whole game in your own zone wearing yourself out.”
I have a theory why the Canucks have had trouble with this under Tortorella, and it relates to the forwards collapsing toward their net in the defensive zone. While this strategy may lead to more blocked shots, there’s a catch. Once the puck turns over, the forwards aren’t in a great position to start the transition. And if you haven’t noticed, the Sedins aren’t exactly lightning fast. It takes them a while to get back up the ice. The last thing they need is more ice to cover.
2. They can’t capitalize on rebounds
Tortorella wants his players to shoot the puck. From anywhere and everywhere. Even if it’s just flinging the puck on net. And the Canucks have bought into that, for the most part. Going into tonight’s game, they’re averaging 30.7 shots, the 12th-most in the NHL.
Shooting the puck, regardless of whether there’s a reasonable chance of scoring on the shot, can be an effective strategy if you have the players to capitalize on rebounds. The Canucks have some players that fare OK in those situations, like Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins. And wouldn’t you know it, those two lead the team in goals, with 22 and 17, respectively.
The Sedins, on the other hand, are not those types. When they’re on their game, they play hockey like it’s basketball, using misdirection to find open teammates, often with the goalie being caught out of position. If you just throw the puck on net and tell the twins to go into traffic and get rebounds, it’s not going to work. You might as well tell a dead dog to go fetch.
Now, to be fair, Tortorella has said he doesn’t want to turn the Sedins into grinders. That may be so, and by the way, I don’t believe for a second that the twins are wholly victims of the system. They started declining before Torts came to Vancouver, and they’ve needed to be better for a while now. But that being said, after Vigneault was fired, if I had been in charge of picking a coach to get the Sedins going, Torts wouldn’t have been at the top of my list, or really anywhere near it.
3. They give up way too many odd-man rushes
A classic example of this came in the 6-1 loss to Dallas. Here’s Alex Edler with one of the worst pinches you’ll ever see:
This has been an issue all season. Dan Hamhuis, like Edler, has struggled with this, too. And these are not bad defensemen we’re talking about. Edler was good enough to play regular minutes in the Olympics for Sweden, which won silver in Sochi. Hamhuis may not have played big minutes for Canada, but he was good enough to be part of arguably the best blue line ever assembled in international hockey. So he’s got that going for him.
But this is what Tortorella wants his defense doing: making aggressive pinches to keep pucks alive in the attacking zone. In contrast, Vigneault would often talk about making “high-percentage plays.” Which is why it’s totally wrong to label Tortorella a super conservative coach and Vigneault some sort of run-and-gunner. It’s just not true. They’re simply safe and risky in different areas.
Anyway, I’m not sure how this all ends. My guess is Tortorella isn’t back next season and Gillis keeps his job, but I’m just a blogger speculating.