I am, as many of you know, a huge Canucks fan. However, more than that, I am a huge hockey fan. I’ve played hockey for most of my life, I’ve watched hockey for most of my life, and I generally know what’s what. So watching last night’s Kings-Canucks first round game 3 playoff game, while I was absolutely puzzled and outraged at the officiating, deep down inside, I knew that even if the game was being called in an unbiased and objective way, we STILL wouldn’t be winning.
Consider this: the Kings PP is connecting at OVER 50% (in fact, 58.3%, closer to 60%). And we’re not talking after one game; that’s after 3 games. The Canucks PP on the other hand, is slogging along at just over 18%, and really, it looks far worse than that. In Monday’s game, they could barely get into the zone and set up. Puck movement is stagnant, shots from the point aren’t getting through, passes aren’t crisp, and aren’t being received in a position to do anything with the puck.
In today’s NHL, penalties are common. The last NHL game without a penalty was April 2nd. The last game before that? 2002. There have only ever been 4 penalty free playoff games in the history of the NHL. So if the Canucks can’t kill penalties, and they can’t score on the power play, then they’re screwed. You don’t win playoff games without good special teams.
To my eye, it looks like we’re playing a diamond, which is (supposedly) effective against the umbrella powerplay. I’m not a big fan of this style of kill, as it leaves one D-man in front of the net alone. If there’s anywhere that you don’t really want an outmanned situation its in front of the net. The Kings are playing an umbrella, but are sucking the strong side or weak side guy down low when they generate a shot from the point, and creating odd man situations in the corners and in front of the net. This is particularly dangerous when everyone is running around trying to cover for each other, your defencemen aren’t clearing rebounds, and your goalie is leaving them in the slot or in the crease.
Watch all three Kings PP goals last night. What’s the one thing you see on each goal? Two Kings players in front of the net being “covered” by one Canucks defenceman. The most egregious case of this is on Doughty’s goal from the point last night, where there are literally two Kings players right on Luongo’s doorstep, and Salo is trying to move one of them without leaving the front of the net to the other. You’ll also notice that Jack Johnson moves away from his point down into the slot as Doughty drags the puck to Johnson’s now-vacated point:
Either Vignault needs to recognize this and switch the PK to a simpler, tighter box with less holes, deny passes through the box, and rely on Luongo to make saves, or else the players need to recognize this, know when to switch, and tie up men in front of the net. I’m a fan of the former, and think the latter is playing with fire.
Does it help that Mitchell and Johnson are out? No. Does it help that Luongo is playing at VORP? No. But good teams find a way to win. If the Canucks can’t figure out a way to kill some penalties and right the special teams ship, they can look forward to a long summer of golf.