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.