Each week our Fan Fuel bloggers will profile the Canadian NHL teams and discuss the five important storylines for that club. Today, Israel Fehr looks at the biggest storylines this week involving the Vancouver Canucks.
1. Goaltending: This may as well be a weekly staple. The relentless focus on goaltending in Vancouver can be extreme but as long as Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo both remain, the conversation will continue. Schneider was chased on opening night after giving up five goals on 14 shots against Anaheim, but rebounded nicely with two straight wins before giving up four goals against San Jose. Luongo has shootout losses in both of his starts but was sharp in Monday’s loss to Los Angeles.
Last week, GM Mike Gillis told Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun that the Canucks “have a potential deal in place with one team,” which of course sparked chatter to the proximity of a Luongo trade. For now, both goalies will continue to share the crease with a sustained lean towards Schneider.
2. Zack Kassian: The 22-year-old forward has been the Canucks most dynamic player through the first six games. He’s already scored four goals, the same amount he scored in 44 games last season. His torrid goal scoring pace even prompted Don Cherry to remind Kassian that he’s not Guy Lafleur and to remember why he was promoted to play with the Sedins on the first line. Kassian’s combination of size, speed, good hands, and grit already has many Canucks fans reminiscing about the prime years of Todd Bertuzzi.
3. Jason Garrison: Garrison was the Canucks preeminent off-season acquisition when he signed a six-year, $27.6 million deal. Brought in primarily for his booming shot, Garrison has made little impact on the struggling Vancouver power play. He remains without a point despite over 31 minutes of ice time with the man advantage. The 28-year-old has been respectable defensively but there’s one miscue that stands out above all displays of sound defensive play. Garrison and then-partner Alex Edler were both guilty of egregious defensive zone giveaways that gifted San Jose two goals inside the game’s opening five minutes.
4. Special Teams: It’s still early, so this runs the risk of being an issue of small sample size, but Vancouver’s special teams trends are particularly worrisome. The Canucks are 19th (18.8 percent) in power play efficiency and 25th (69.2 percent) in penalty kill efficiency. It’s not just the numbers that are alarming – the power play has looked lethargic and the penalty kill a step too slow. Ryan Kesler’s presence on both units is sorely missed. In the past two seasons, with Kesler prominently featured, the Canucks have ranked in the top six in power play and penalty kill. With or without Kesler, who is still rehabbing from offseason shoulder and wrist surgeries, the margin for error for special teams inefficiency in a 48 game season is remarkably thin.
5. Faceoffs: Kesler’s absence is felt here too. Vancouver ranks 28th (46.3 percent) in faceoff percentage and they’ve lost or drawn the faceoff battle in five of six games. Too many times they’ve been forced on their heels following a defensive zone loss or have not been able to take advantage of offensive zone opportunities. Just like the PP and the PK, faceoffs have been an area of strength for the Canucks the past two seasons. In 2011-2012 they were third (52.2 percent) and in 2010-2011 they were first (54.9 percent). Kesler has won between 53 percent and 57 percent of his draws every season since 2007-2008 and his replacements have not fared well so far. Maxim Lapierre and Alex Burrows, a natural right winger, are both below 40 percent in the faceoff circle this season.