The Vancouver Canucks are on a nine-game losing streak and haven’t won a game since March 12. They’re one loss away from tying a franchise mark set in 1997 during the dark days of the Mike Keenan era.
The Canucks visit the San Jose Sharks Thursday night — a club that has generally posed matchup problems for Vancouver. San Jose is, however, the last team the Canucks managed to beat.
With franchise history on the line, let’s examine Vancouver’s painful nine-game skid.
The Canucks have been an underwhelming puck possession team all season, but injuries to key defencemen like Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev have elevated Vancouver from ‘underwhelming’ to ‘tire fire’.
Since March 13, the Canucks have controlled 41.5 per cent of score-adjusted unblocked shot attempts, according to puckon.net. It’s narrowly the worst mark in the league over that span.
Hockey is an odd game and occasionally an otherwise respectable team will go on an extended losing streak, seemingly just for the twisted amusement of the hockey gods. Vancouver has been full value on this latest run of futility.
The Canucks been outscored by 20 goals in all situations during their last nine games. That’s an astronomical number and eight goals worse than any other team that has done so over a similar time frame.
An inability to buy goals has been at the root of the Canucks’ late-season swoon.
Vancouver have been shut out on four occasions in its past nine games. Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues managed to blank the Canucks on two consecutive meetings, but that isn’t too unbecoming. Being shut out in two-straight games by Ondrej Pavelec and then the Edmonton Oilers defence is more difficult to explain.
As anemic as the Canucks have looked offensively, there’s likely some measure of brutal puck luck at play here. Vancouver has converted on only 3.4 per cent of 236 shots during its losing streak, which even though the club isn’t generating nearly enough chances, is an unsustainably low mark.
Vancouver’s permissive defensive play has been an issue all season, but without its usual top pair, the problem has become even more pronounced. The Canucks have surrendered 5-on-5 scoring chances against at a rate of nearly 35 scoring chances against per 60 minutes during their losing skid. That’s the worst mark in hockey by a good margin.
It’s tough to win games when the opposition is ventilating your defensive structure consistently.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Vancouver’s current losing streak is that the club’s goaltenders have actually played pretty well.
Even though the Canucks are surrendering scoring chances against in bunches over this stretch, Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom have combined to post a totally respectable .912 save percentage. It’s actually tied for the 12th best mark in the NHL since March 13.
When you see a team losing a lot over a small sample of games, it’s usually the goaltending that’s at issue, but that hasn’t been the case in Vancouver.
4 total points
It has been a frustrating month – and probably a frustrating season – for Daniel and Henrik Sedin, two of the most dependable point producers in Canucks franchise history.
Henrik and Daniel have played in nine games and have combined for two goals and two assists since March 13. Equally troubling is that Henrik and Daniel haven’t been controlling the run-of-play nearly as effectively as they have throughout their careers in the latter half of this season.
It’s apparent that Henrik has been playing through some sort of discomfort or injury since before Christmas. Canucks fans and management will have to hope the twins’ struggles down the stretch are related more to that than to the natural impact of aging.
Henrik and Daniel haven’t been altogether that productive, but they’re still Vancouver’s leading point getters over the past nine games – a testament to how meager Vancouver’s offence has been over this stretch.
No Canucks forwards are in the black by shot-attempt differential during this losing streak. One forward is relatively close, though, and it’s not a name you’d expect.
Though he’s likely to finish the year with the worst plus/minus in the NHL, there are signs that Bo Horvat appears to be finding his way as a tough-minutes centre. Horvat has continued to be tasked with starting more shifts in the defensive end than any other Canucks centre. In contrast with his results from earlier this season, he’s actually managed to come out close to even by shot-attempt differential over the past nine games.
It’s a small sample, but it’s a positive indicator.
Before losing to the Winnipeg Jets on March 14, Vancouver had a 6.7 per cent chance of drafting first overall, according to hockey data visualization wiz and hockeyviz.com proprietor Micah Blake McCurdy.
If there’s one big bright spot to take from Canucks’ brutal play in March, it’s that the club has tanked effectively enough to make even Tim Murray and George S. Patton blush.
Vancouver’s odds of selecting first overall at the this spring’s draft have more than doubled in the last 16 days. Factoring in the club’s true talent, the true talent of the teams still around them in the standings, and their probable lottery odds, McCurdy estimates that the Canucks now have a 14 per cent chance of making the first overall selection in Buffalo in June.
Since losing out on Gilbert Perreault by a millimeter back in 1970, Vancouver’s NHL franchise has never selected first overall at the NHL draft. Though the prospect of the Canucks picking first overall in 2016 remains remote, this latest run of futility has made that possibility genuine.