5 takeaways: Depth an issue as Canucks fall to Capitals

Alex Ovechkin’s fifth goal of the season was the winner as the Washington Capitals defeated the Vancouver Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks fell to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, losing their third consecutive home game to fall to 0-2-2 at Rogers Arena this season. Here are 5 Takeaways from Wednesday’s entertaining tilt.


Radim Vrbata, the Canucks’ leading scorer in 2014-15, entered Thursday night’s contest without a point in six games.

Vrbata has bounced all around the Canucks lineup in the early going, but he landed back on Vancouver’s top-line on Thursday night – playing triggerman for the Sedin twins for the first time this season. His impact was felt in a major way.

At 5-on-5 the Sedins and Vrbata managed to control better than 58 per cent of all shot attempts, and recorded 10 of Vancouver’s 25 shots on goal. One of those shots was actually just a fortunate bounce off of Vrbata’s skate, which slipped past Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby for the second period game-tying goal.

The goal wasn’t a typical Vrbata tally, but was the sort of greasy goal a snake bit player sometimes needs to get going. And sure enough Vrbata would add a secondary assist just a few minutes later on the power play.

“It wasn’t the prettiest goal I’ve ever scored,” Vrbata told reporters post game, by way of the official Canucks feed, “but I needed it. Too bad it didn’t lead to two points.”

The Canucks and Vrbata will get at least another game as a trio, Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins told reporters after the contest. And they should. When that line was on the ice on Thursday night against the Capitals, the Canucks threatened more consistently than they have in any other game this season.

A disturbing trend

The Canucks are now winless in four tries at Rogers Arena this season, with all four of those losses coming in one-goal games (two of which were decided in extra time).

Vancouver built their success last season on the back of a stellar – and unsustainable – record in close contests, but neither the recent string of one goal losses or the slow start in home games are trends that should really worry Canucks fans at the moment. What should be more concerning is that the Canucks have now dropped three consecutive contests at home as the more rested side – a stretch that includes multiple losses to teams playing the second leg of back-to-back game

It’s still very early in the year, but Vancouver has had a favourable home schedule over the past week and has failed to take advantage.

Miller solid despite muffin

To my eyes it was a pretty sweet goal, but Ryan Miller might want Ovechkin’s game winner back, if for no other reason than that it came off of a one-timer that the Russian super sniper described as “a muffin shot”.

Miller was otherwise excellent in a losing effort on Thursday night though, as he has been all month. The 35-year-old netminder managed to stop 32 of 35 shots against the Capitals and nine of the 11 “high-danger shots” he faced, according to war-on-ice.com. Miller bailed out his defence repeatedly, and probably deserved a better result in the third frame.

Though Miller’s win/loss record dropped below .500 with Thursday night’s loss, he’s managed a .931 save percentage while appearing in every single game the Canucks have played so far. There’s no arguing with that.

Stunted youth

When a pair of teenage forwards in Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen won roster spots out of training camp earlier this month, it seemed as if the organization was prepared to usher in a new and more youthful era of Canucks hockey. Development isn’t always linear though, and so far Vancouver’s ambitious youth movement is more limp than canter.

On Thursday night Virtanen played just over two minutes in a tight third-period contest, while Jared McCann logged fewer than 40 seconds in the final frame. 22-year-old Sven Baertschi, meanwhile, played just seven total seconds in the game’s final 20 minutes.

It wasn’t wholly a negative outing for Vancouver’s young players. McCann had his moments and 20-year-old Bo Horvat and 22-year-old Ben Hutton both logged regular shifts on Thursday. Late in the contest both Hutton and Virtanen logged some high-leverage ice time, as Vancouver went in search of an equalizer.

Still, with all three of Virtanen, Baertschi and McCann logging under 10 minutes in the contest, it’s clear that the Canucks’ young guns are still working through some growing pains.

Depth issues

A year ago the Canucks leaned heavily on a four-line approach. 11 different Canucks forwards scored 10 goals or more, and every single Canucks forward who appeared in at least 10 games with the club averaged over 10 minutes of even-strength ice time per game.

It’s a different story this season. Because the club is carrying some younger players who rather obviously haven’t earned the trust of the head coach yet, three Canucks regulars – Virtanen, Baertschi and McCann – are logging fewer than 10 minutes at even strength per contest.

When you’re forced to lean rather heavily on three lines, it can become more difficult to parcel out ice time appropriately. It’s partly why Derek Dorsett logged more ice time in the third period than Daniel Sedin did against the Capitals.

It can also make it more difficult to manage matchups, even when you’ve got last change. Though the Sedin twins and the Canucks’ top defence pair of Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev were brilliant on Thursday, Ovechkin’s game-winning goal was scored against the club’s ostensible third-line of Brandon Prust, Derek Dorsett and Bo Horvat.

The paying customers at Rogers Arena got their money’s worth on Thursday. The Sedin twins were as good as they’ve been all season, and Ovechkin put on a show. Ultimately Washington’s depth held together better than Vancouver’s though, which was the difference.

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