Archive for October, 2007

What’s wrong with Willie Mitchell?

Apparently, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is, much like the rest of us, perplexed by defenceman Willie Mitchell’s inexplicably poor play this season. And Mitchell is not very pleased about the coach’s decision to make this known to the media.

This season, Mitchell’s play has been plagued by questionable decision-making (e.g., failing to play the pass on a 2-on-1, a textbook play for a defenceman, against Detroit, which led to a goal in the last minute of the first period). He is also not skating well, a problem exacerbated by his frequent tendency to be out of position in the defensive zone.

In effect, the Canucks number one shut-down defenceman has done little of it, twelve games into the season.

What is wrong? It is hard to identify the source of Mitchell’s struggles with any precision.

To some extent, his poor play might be explained with reference to the equally, if not more, shabby play of his defence partner, Kevin Bieksa. (Of course, the aforementioned lapses in judgement can’t be attributed to Bieksa, irrespective of his own shortcomings this season.)

Perhaps, it might be the pressure on the defence to compensate for a lack of offensive prowess. Every goal conceded in a game makes it more and more likely the Canucks will be unable to win. Engaging in every play worrying about conceding a goal, so it goes, can lead to misguided efforts to overcompensate. Indeed, this has been cited by Mitchell on a few occasions as a possible explanation for his struggles.

But, let us be honest: offensive limitations and a reliance on sound defending is no different from the situation befalling the Canucks last season, one in which, it bears noting, Mitchell thrived.

The fact of the matter is that Mitchell is simply lacking confidence, for whatever reason. He is tentative with the puck, weak on the man with the puck, hesitant to make plays, and (presently) lacking the defensive instincts that have marked him as one of the league’s top shut-down defencemen.

Whatever the cause of this decline in confidence, let us hope it is addressed, quickly. Without Mitchell thriving, the Canucks will be hard-pressed to succeed in a Northwest division where prolonged struggles can be ill-afforded.

Thanks, Roberto

A late flurry of pressure from the Capitals was not enough last night, as the Canucks held on to defeat Washington 3-2 to finish the road trip 2-2.

The main reason for the victory, like so many since last year: Roberto Luongo.

The storyline has become the familiar refrain for an effective performance by the Canucks: generate enough offensive opportunities to score around three goals (at least one of which will come on the power play) and ride the defence, particularly Luongo, to a closely-fought victory.

This season, to a large extent, the Canucks have done neither of these things, hence the 5-6 record.

Last night, however, the Canucks illustrated perfectly what type of team they need to be if they are going to be successful. It is a simple formula, really.

Let us hope they adhere to it with more consistency over the next few weeks and establish themselves where they belong: among the upper tier of teams in the Western Conference.

What would John Garrett say?

Roberto Luongo displayed, once again, why he is my ‘lock of the year’ for the Vezina trophy. If there is anyone better at tightening the screws late in the game, holding on to an imminent victory with a vise-like grip, I would certainly like to meet him.

What would John Garrett say?

Every blog, I think, needs a recurring theme or format to attract and capture a consistent audience.

To wit, I am pleased to introduce what I intend to be a regular feature of this particular blog. It is called, ‘What would John Garrett say?’

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of (a) living in Vancouver, (b) watching the Canucks in the early 1980s, and/or (c) watching Canucks broadcasts, this is John Garrett:

John, as this nifty pictoral arrangement should illustrate, is a current commentator on the NHL on Sportsnet (focusing his attention on the Vancouver Canucks) and a former NHL goaltender, who played for the Canucks during the early 1980s.He is also well known (and, much loved) for being a blatant, shameless, sometimes obsequious Canucks homer.
A case in point: each year, Sportsnet gathers its hockey pundits for some thoughts and predictions about the upcoming NHL season; for the last, oh five years or so, trusty old JG has picked the Canucks to win the Stanely Cup every single year.(In fact, and I stand to be corrected, I think JG even picked the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup during the lockout year.)

So, henceforward, when discussing issues related to the team or providing pre-game or post-game analysis, I will channel the wisdom of Garrett as part of my commentary. Consider it part of my ongoing effort to encourage a more positive view on the world of the Vancouver Canucks. Stay tuned.

Take a breath

If you read the forums over at Canucks.com, you might be under the impression that the sky is falling in Vancouver after the Canucks lost to Carolina last night, dropping their record to an admittedly unimpressive 4-5.

Notable topics range from ‘Do we need to be worried yet,’ at the most subdued, to ‘Canucks are done’ and ‘Is AVs job in jeopardy?’ on the more reactionary side.

Let us clarify a few important issues here. Yes, it is disturbing that the Canucks can’t seem to generate many shots. Yes, it is disappointing that this team still hasn’t found a way to put the puck in the net with any kind of regularity. And, yes, it would be much better if the team were coming out of the gate like these guys.

Now, having put all that out there, let us take further stock, with a dose of reality mixed in. The season is only nine games old. Last season, the Canucks started 8-10-1. In fact, the team was 17-18-1 at the Christmas break. (That team won the Northwest division, if you recall.) In other words, there is plenty of time for the team to right the ship. There is plenty of time for the D to get sorted and re-establish itself as it ought to be, namely, one of the best 1-6 corps in the league. (Salo’s imminent return should help immensely.) And, there is plenty of time for the offence to kick into gear, much like it did after Christmas last season.

What I am trying to say is, chill out, people. The Canucks are going to get better. They are going to make the playoffs. They are going to inspire the 14 year old hacks frequenting the forums at Canucks.com to compose posts such as ‘What is the best route in the city for the Stanley Cup parade’, ‘Is Luongo a higher god than Jesus?’, ‘Why can’t the Sedin’s be my parents?’ and other such hyberbole.

Everything is going to be okay.

Just. Take. A. Breath.

Enter Sandman

Last season, any game in which the Canucks did not start goaltender Roberto Luongo was perceived by fans and pundits alike to be a precarious enterprise. This season, it appears, matters are different.
In a game the Canucks arguably deserved to lose, back-up goaltender Curtis Sanford (signed in the summer as an unrestricted free agent) was spectacular, stopping 35 of 36 shots on goal en route to a 4-1 Canucks victory over Columbus.
In fact, during a spell in play from the second period until early in the third, the Canucks were outshot 20-0, and shorthanded six times. Yet, Sanford stood tall, allowing only one goal (Rick Nash’s power play marker early in the second).
Largely due to Sanford, the Canucks were able to hold off the Blue Jackets’ barrage until captain Markus Naslund scored on a trademark wrist shot to put the Canucks up 3-1, and the game effectively out of reach.
Notable contributors on the night, apart from Sanford, also included Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa. Kesler played what coach Alain Vigneault suggested might have been his best game as a Canuck, scoring twice, and Bieksa, for the first time this season, looked like the player he was last season, scoring once and throwing his weight around with aplomb.
The win puts the Canucks back at .500 (4-4). With Luongo returning in net for tonight’s game with Carolina, the team has an excellent opportunity to build on the win and string a few more together.

Somewhere, Tom Watt is smiling

Following up on my ode to 1980s Canucks sniper Tony Tanti, it bears noting that the Canucks of 2007 look frighteningly like the Canucks of Tanti’s day, at least in terms of their seeming inability to beat anyone.

The most disconcerting pattern emerging in this early part of the season, displayed shockingly again last night in the 4-2 loss to the hapless L.A. Kings, is that the Canucks defence is playing woefully below par and, resulting from this, they seem to have a predilection for giving up three or four goals to the opposition in less than ten minutes every bloody game.

I don’t know what’s wrong but the Canucks better get this sorted. Quick.

Tony Tanti, where art thou?

Something tells me that if Tony Tanti were patrolling Left Wing for the Vancouver Canucks in 2007 instead of 1987, the team would be a legitimate Stanley Cup threat.

Think about it, the guy routinely scored 30-40 goals in the 1980s on Canucks teams that were, to put it midly, something akin to the trash that gets put out a week early and gets torn to shreds by racoons on a nightly basis. (Just replace racoons with the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and pretty much the rest of the NHL excluding the LA Kings and the Winnipeg Jets to illustrate the analogy.) In fact, Tanti scored over 40 goals three times while plying his trade with the ‘Nucks, including 45 in 1983-1984.
If he were playing on this version of the team, games like last night might turn out much differently. Instead of outplaying the opposition for two periods and entering the third period in a 1-1 tie, whereafter the team promptly gets ruthlessly punished by the opposition for failing to put them down when the opportunities were there to do so, the Canucks would be safely riding a Tanti hat-trick and able to take the rest of the night off with Luongo between the pipes.
Unfortunately, Tony is now hawking flooring solutions to the good people of the Lower Mainland. I still think he could help the power play, though.