Nothing goes right for the Vancouver Canucks. This is an immutable law of hockey and the NHL. It’s mostly comedy fodder for everyone outside of British Columbia, and probably for more sadistic jokes within. It becomes less funny when you’ve spent a decade or two listening to Canucks fans bemoan their very existence at volume levels that rival the voice of God, Dogma-version. But that sort of background noise is part and parcel of following the league.
Anyway, whatever they’re trying, the Canucks are almost always a sure bet to fuck it up somehow. This is a team that had an absolute powerhouse of a roster in 2011, lost Game 7 at home when Roberto Luongo shit a chicken every time he stepped foot in Boston, and then in the deciding game. They haven’t won a real playoff round since, and no, 2020 doesn’t count.
There was some hope for this year’s squad, mostly built through the excitement of d-man Quinn Hughes, a goalie in Thatcher Demko that looked poised to be the next big thing wearing a mask, and forwards like Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and the like. It was also partially fueled by the Pacific Division being the remedial class of the NHL, where you can only really count on the Flames to be good (you depend on the Oilers to be anything and watch your sanity go right into the toilet).
Well, this season could not have started worse for the Canucks, who are 0-3-1. That’s a bad start, but not one that couldn’t become a footnote in the long run. However, the Canucks don’t just do badly when they do badly. And they don’t just crash when they crash. They make it epic. Last night, the Canucks became the first team in NHL history to lose their first four games of a season when they held a multiple-goal lead IN EVERY GAME.
That’s right, the ‘Nucks have blown at least a two-goal lead to everyone they’ve faced. You can somewhat understand that when it’s against the Oilers or Capitals, who have a fair amount of firepower. When you also spit up regurgitated foodstuffs against the Flyers and Jackets, you have a real problem.
It’s already rattling brains within the team, as it caused a players-only meeting just three games into the season, which is hardly ever a good sign. Usually, players-only meetings mean everyone hates the coach and they’re trying to figure out how they’re still going to play for him or how they’re going to go about getting him fired. Naturally, the rumors are already flying that Bruce Boudreau should start preparing his resume. It’s certainly not helping that Boudreau is calling his team mentally weak, because mentality is sort of near the top of a coach’s to-do list.
Overall, there really isn’t that much to worry about in Vancouver’s game. Their shots, shots against, attempts-share, and expected goals-share rank anywhere from 10th to 16th in the league, which is about where you’d have this team pegged. But that whole mentality thing shows up when you see how badly they’ve gotten clocked in the 3rd period, giving up over 65 percent of the expected goals in the final frame in three of their four games. Even with a lead where you’d expect an opponent to attack more feverishly and get more chances, getting flattened like that is not how you hold leads or win games.
The biggest problem is that Demko has been a court jester in net so far this season, with a .847 save-percentage and already conceding -4.5 goals than expected, third-worst in the league. Most of the Canucks’ problems will be fixed when Demko starts facing the right way, though there has to be a little worry if something isn’t truly off here.
Beyond Demko though, this team has defensive issues. The entire top four of Hughes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Riley Stillman, and Luke Schenn (by minutes played) break even when it comes to attempts, but they are giving up far better chances than are being created when they’re on the ice, at least according to xGF percentage. Only Stillman is above water in the latter category. Tyler Myers has only played one game through injury, but as anyone who has seen Tyler Myers play will tell you, he’s not going to solve any of your defensive issues.
Not helping matters much is that the top line with Horvat and Boeser has been getting kicked around heavily, with a 41 percent xG percentage. Topping off this pungent cake is that usual two-way dynamo J.T. Miller, fresh off inking some flashy new paper, has been seeing his skull turned into putty, with a 29 percent expected goal share. The combination of Demko’s reverse-Matrix act in net and their defensive helplessness has meant that their penalty kill is running at a cool 50 percent right now. Which is another way to blow leads.
But this is kind of the deal with a Boudreau-led team. He’ll take all the handbreaks off for a team offensively, which generally leads to his players having a ton of fun. But his defensive structure has always been a helping of “whatever” and that’s generally why his teams eat it in the playoffs. At this rate, the Canucks won’t have to worry about that, and Boudreau won’t have to worry about being around to watch it.
Luckily for Vancouver, the Pacific still sucks ass. There’s plenty of time for them to right themselves, and Demko won’t be this bad forever. But when the coach is already calling the team soft between the ears and the players are discussing amongst themselves, it doesn’t feel like a change is too far off in the future.