The Vancouver Canucks have played 24 games this season. They’ve opened the scoring just six times.
So in 75 percent of their games they’ve trailed 1-0.
In fact, of all 30 teams in the NHL, no team has surrendered the first goal in a higher percentage of its games. Colorado (73%) and Ottawa (71%) are close, but Vancouver leads the way. And “losing 1-0” is not a category any team wants to lead.
So what’s the problem? Why all the slow starts? One theory — beyond the simple explanation that the Canucks just aren’t very good — involves their much-ballyhooed defensive structure. Is it possible it’s too defensive? Too passive? Too much waiting for the other team to make a mistake, and not enough getting after it?
Because in last night’s 3-1 loss to Anaheim, the Canucks didn’t register their first shot until halfway through the first period. The Ducks didn’t open the scoring until the second, but they had their chances. The Canucks had practically none, until they were losing that is.
After the game, head coach Willie Desjardins refused to blame the structure for the slow start.
“There’s nothing passive about our defense,” he said. “I don’t think we moved the puck great. I don’t think we were transitioning it real well. Our team has to be a transition team. We’ve got to turn pucks over, we’ve got to transition, and we’ve got to get to the net.”
The Canucks, to be fair, were missing two of their best defensemen in Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, and that meant bigger minutes for the likes of Luca Sbisa, who was charged with three giveaways on the night.
So Desjardins wasn’t wrong in his assessment. The Canucks did have all sorts of trouble breaking through the Ducks’ forecheck, especially in the first period.
“They took charge of that game. They had segments of the game when they were in our end,” said the coach. “The one thing that will happen if a team’s in your end, they’ll wear you down, so every time you come out you’re changing, and then you’re in a bad cycle.”
For the Canucks, the first period was one long, bad cycle.
Sbisa, for his part, couldn’t say why the Canucks came out of the gates so tentatively, but he did concede it was a “very disappointing” loss.
“I don’t know what it was,” he said. “We didn’t have that jump, that intensity that you need, especially against the Ducks, a big, heavy team. You’ve got to be ready to battle.”
The Canucks better be a lot more ready to battle Saturday when the Toronto Maple Leafs pay a visit to Rogers Arena. The Leafs smoked them, 6-3, in their last meeting on Nov. 5 at Air Canada Centre.
“Our focus is on our effort and it has to be better tomorrow than it was last night,” Desjardins said this morning. “I’m not worried about if we’ll be ready.”