by Tyler Rowe
A fair amount of belly-aching has taken place over the Canucks’ play since the big game in Boston on January 7th, and with good reason. In that time, Canada’s Team (see our tagline, jerk) is 17-7-5, or 17-12 if you feel the way we do about rewarding losers. A respectable record for some teams I suppose, but not for a contender, especially when attained in spite of some not-so-respectable play. The more disturbing portion is the last 10 games, where the Canucks are 3-5-2 (3-7), including consecutive losses to two teams that are likely first-round opponents in the Coyotes and Stars.
While many slumps were bumped in the 5-4 loss to Phoenix last Wednesday, and more still on Saturday night when the Canucks just barely beat the worst team in the league, the team is definitely not firing on all cylinders. Last night’s game in Minnesota was almost un-watchable, and while Minnesota’s new coach Mike “Yo” Yeo is clearly trapping-down in the vain hope of keeping his job going into ’12’-13, the Canucks were mediocre at best. They were out-shot, out-hit and won only 43% of their face-offs. Cory Schneider was more impressive than (the actually pretty darn impressive) Josh Harding on the night, not because he suddenly became a show-off, but because he had to be. Kevin Bieksa for one spent the whole night giving it up like the audience at the start of the Arsenio Hall Show.
Mercifully the Canucks aren’t the only ones who are puttering along at this late hour in the ’11’-12 season. The Bruins and Red Wings also wallow in their own crapulence. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn a little about what’s up with the Canucks by looking/laughing at their struggles.
First things first, What of the Boston Bruins? Le Géant de Merde and company have gone 15-16-2 (15-18) since January 7th, going 4-6 in their last 10, although they did a number on the Leafs last night. Where they held a commanding lead in the East before A Low-Bridge Too Far, they’re now in danger of falling to the #3 seed. Seriously now, if whoever wins the Southeast finishes 2nd overall, we’ve all lost a little; even the Yertle of that particular Turtle tower*. Furthermore, the Northeast was a non-contest back in January. Now the Bruins lead by only a point over the Senators (I like Ottawa this year, but they’re not even a dark horse in my opinion). So who gets the blame?
*You see, Yertle the Turtle (Southeast champ X) was dissatisfied with the stone that served as his throne (the SE-championship and the rightful #3-seed that goes along with it); although his kingdom was a meager pond, he felt his position deserved more grandeur (The #2-seed). So he stacked his servants (other SE teams) beneath him to see further, thereby expanding his kingdom. Unfortunately, Yertle was too ambitious and stacked too high. His new throne toppled (what will happen to the SE champ in the 1st round) because turtles don’t have to take physics in high-school. But it’s because they don’t have political science that they don’t know that when you’re king of the crappiest ecosystem, you should be happy with your crappy throne.
In the 2012 calendar year, these are the stats:
(Player Games Goals Assists Points)
Tyler Seguin 36 10 16 26
Patrice Bergeron 36 12 16 28
Milan Lucic 36 10 17 27
David Krejci 36 13 14 27
Brad Marchand 30 8 8 16
Zdeno Chara 36 2 17 19
With injuries to Nathan Horton and Rich Peverly, Boston’s scoring depth is diminished, but the scorers they do have are clearly producing. In fact, Boston has the best offense in the league, averaging 3.2 goals a night. What is the problem then? I have been hearing a lot of delightful talk about the lousy play of defender of liberty and markets-unfettered-by-the-corrupt-hand-of-government Tim Thomas. So how bad is Thomas? Bad enough to explain the B’s putrid 2012 so far? I’m so glad you asked.
In the nine starts before the Toronto Massacre, Thomas’ goals against average was a whopping 3.56, and since Tukka Rask has been hurt since March 3rd, the backup goalie right now in Beantown is Marty Turco—good for a GAA of 6.00 in his only start. Furthermore not all of those goals are Thomas’ fault. As good as their offense has been, Boston has made team defense their bread and butter for years, and that team defense has been absent. Why? Sounds like they’ve been schweepy. Claude Julien has recently been quoted as saying, “We have some guys that are tired and guys that are not playing up to par.” You don’t need to make an appointment with Dr. Mark Recchi to figure out why, and I shouldn’t deride—that’s exactly what’s wrong with Vancouver.
Next there’s the Detroit Red Wings, who can lay a little less blame on effort and a little more blame on age and injury. While the red-shirts are happy that Pavel Datsyuk is back after nearly a month on the bench for arthroscopic knee surgery, captain Nicklas “There-isn’t-a-single-American-who-speaks-Swedish-as-well-as-I-speak-English” Lidstrom is still injured, Darren Helm is now out for 4-6 weeks, and they really miss Jakub Kindl on that blue line (Johnathan Ericsson is out too, but they don’t miss him). Todd Bertuzzi has missed time over the year as well, and Johan Franzen has missed the last two games with back spasms.
Detroit has lost 7 of their last 8, and since January 7th they’re 19-13-2 (19-15)—just like the Canucks, that’s a fine record for a non-contender, but Detroit needs to be better than two games above .500 over a three-month period if they expect to play hockey for another three months after this. The problem isn’t their offense or defense; Detroit is 5th overall in goals for and 4th in goals against.
The even key-er injuries I haven’t mentioned yet are the ones that kept Jimmy Howard out for most of February and much of March. Before the broken finger he sustained in a February 2nd match against Vancouver and the undefined lower body injury that followed later that month, Howard’s goaltending was nothing short of excellent. Since the initial injury, Howard is 1-3-2 (1-5), that mark coming over the last four weeks.
On top of Howard’s trials and tribulations, Detroit’s special teams have been bad too. They gave up three power play goals to Washington last night in a 5-3 loss and scored just their first power play goal in 30 attempts. In years gone by those numbers would be fun, temporary abberations to look back and laugh at while drinking Moet from the Stanley Cup. This year those numbers are the norm—Detroit sports the league’s 22nd ranked PP and 24th ranked PK. The Canucks don’t really have a lot of parallels to draw from here—they’re more or less healthy, and the special teams are still fine enough in the rainforest.
So I don’t know if we’ve learned that much here, but at least we can take some comfort. Two other top clubs are stumbling along through the 2012 calendar just like the Canucks are, for one reason or another. At the very least, we are like Fox Mulder in that we are not alone. Should Vancouver, Boston, and Detroit be worried with the playoffs only 22 days away? Probably. But I’ll tell you who isn’t: Las Vegas. Those three sides are respectively 6/1, 9/1, and 8/1 favourites to win the cup right now with all the major odds-makers. But of that bumbling threesome, Detroit has to be the most concerned. The Central division is no longer there for the taking as St. Louis pulls away, and a first-round tilt against the now extra-Rad(ulov) Nashville Predators is an absolute nightmare of a match-up.
So there you have it, Canuck fans. It’s rare and succulent to be able to say “at least we aren’t the Detroit Red Wings.” Let those words fall out of your mouth like tender pieces of roast beef. It might distract you from your usual preoccupation: how bad your hockey team is playing.