LOS ANGELES – In this city where so many have dreamed of being a star, the Vancouver Canucks on Monday held what amounted to an open casting call.
They practised with three power-play units.
Nine forwards and four defencemen auditioned briefly in 1-3-1 formations, hoping for the chance to score a rare power-play goal for the Canucks, who try to salvage their four-game National Hockey League road trip Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings.
There were so many players required to cast three power-play units (one of which is likely to be gonged even before going on stage against the Kings) that the few Canucks excluded looked forlorn as they shot pucks at the opposite end of the ice in suburban El Segundo.
So the guys who took reps on the power play are the same ones, largely, who have contributed to a 28th-ranked unit that has generated only 10 goals in 17 games and on Saturday cost the Canucks the chance to win in what turned out to be a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin, centrepieces on a power play that is last in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season, practised with Eriksson in front of the net and Ben Hutton and Michael Del Zotto on the point.
The dreadfulness of Canuck power-play results this season can be summarized in Hank Sedin’s offensive totals with the man-advantage: 59 minutes of power-play time, zero goals, zero assists and one shot on net.
Hutton, who has amassed more power-play time on the point than any Canuck since the start of the 2015-16 season, has logged 371 minutes of PP ice time in the last 26 months and scored twice.
The longer we watch the Canuck power play struggle, the more it appears that the issue is not so much execution as personnel. Vancouver lacks a blue line quarterback who can get point shots on target, plus an elite finisher (although rookie Boeser provides some hope) and a consistent net-front presence to menace opposition goalies and occupy opposition defencemen.
“You watch Tampa Bay’s power play, there’s some pretty high-end players that are moving the puck around and filling spots, moving,” Canucks coach Travis Green said, referring to guys like Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman. “You can’t just say you want a power play to run a certain way. You’ve got to work towards what your players are and what fits your players the best. There’s not much more to say about it. We’re trying to get more production out of our power play.”
Just because it’s a fun comparison, Stamkos and Kucherov have combined for 26 points in about 70 minutes of power-play time. In about 60 minutes, the Sedins have combined for three – a goal and two assists by Daniel. But amid desperate cries from Canuck Nation for others to get power-play time, Horvat (3-1-4 in 51:12 of PP time), Baertschi (2-1-3 in 54:06) and Vanek (1-3-4 in 54:03) haven’t done much better. Boeser (1-5-6 in 45:06) has been the most productive Canuck on the power play.
As for Green’s need to apply a system that “fits your players the best,” he’s asking Canuck players to work harder to win and retrieve pucks. Too many times, Canuck shots are one-and-done on the power play. A goalie makes the save and a penalty killer retrieves the puck and clears the zone. Rinse, repeat.
“I think the biggest thing for us is retrievals,” Del Zotto, signed as a free agent partly to help the power play, said Tuesday. “I think our entries have drastically improved. We’ve gotten in the zone pretty clean for the most part on our power plays. It’s a matter of retrieving the puck and getting second and third opportunities, which at that point you’ve got tired penalty killers, and that’s when seams open up and the quality chances become available.
“When you’re on the PK, you have that mindset to do whatever it takes to clear the puck. As a power play, you have to have that same mindset – that gritty mentality of winning those puck battles and getting to loose pucks. When you do, you have one more guy than they do. Something has to open up at that point.”
Vancouver was 29th in the NHL last season with a power-play success rate of 14.1 per cent, the same dismal efficiency as this season. It tied for 26th at 15.8 per cent the year before.
Henrik Sedin, the Canuck captain who has 352 power-play points in his career, said the current power play is an improvement on the last couple of years because it feels like it can actually score.
“Last year it, it felt like we’d never score on the power play,” he said. “This year, we’ve had games where we’ve scored two power-play goals and it feels like we’ve got something going. Then all of a sudden there’s three games where we’re not executing, we’re not making the plays.”
But do they have the players?
“We have three units now,” he smiled. “So there’s enough guys there.”