ON the surface the Vancouver Canucks appear to be rolling along quite well this season.
First place in the Northwest division is all but officially locked up. Through 50 games hey are not far off from last year’s record breaking pace. They currently stand second in the competitive west, and third overall, and certainly in good shape to take another run at President’s Trophy. They rank in the top 5 in most team statistical categories. And, despite recent struggles, they have the league’s most feared power play.
Yes, there is a lot to like about the Canucks. But I see a major concern. And oddly enough, it is their power play chances that concern me the most. No, not their power play itself, but their power play chances.
Throw out the Boston game, and the Canucks have not scored more than 1 power play goal in a game since early December. In one 15 game stretch in that time they had just 45 power play opportunities. That’s an average of just three power plays per game. Heck, in the last two games against their fierce arch rivals from Chicago the Canucks never had a single power play advantage.
While some Canucks fans will fault bad refereeing for their lack of power play opportunities, the Canucks have only themselves to blame.
The Canucks power play is their bread and butter. To succeed down the stretch and in the playoffs they need to generate more power play opportunities. The funny thing is power play chances become even more scarce in the spring. So how do the Canucks get the refs to pull their whistles out of their pockets?
The Canucks need to play harder. They need to force the opposition to haul them down, hack and whack them. Their foot soldiers need to battle hard for loose pucks and give the opposition little choice but to take penalties against them.
It is that hunger that separates the Canucks of 2011 and the Canucks that I see so far in 2012. That lack of hunger extends to all facets of the game, whether it be blocking shots, taking a big hit to make a play, or sacrificing for the cause . It is the price they must pay to satisfy the hunger necessary to win the Stanley Cup. But at this stage of the season I am left wondering if this team really is capable of making it back to the Finals.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the Canucks have learned from last playoffs and know they can still pace themselves at this stage of the season, and then they will turn it on come playoffs time. But that is a dangerous route to take. Too many teams have travelled down this road only to find out there is no magic switch they can flip just because it is April. By then the bad habits have taken hold.
What the Canucks need down the stretch and into the playoffs is someone to set the tone night in and night out. They need someone to reset that hunger level, to inspire everyone to go through all the hurt and pain of last year’s playoffs all over again. Perhaps that someone can come from within. Perhaps Ryan Kesler, who is starting to come alive in the past few games, can take the next step.
Or perhaps the Canucks need to make a deadline trade to acquire a forward who can set the example. They need someone like John Tonelli back in the Islanders dynasty or Darren McCarty in Detroit’s heyday a few years back. Of course there are about 20 other teams desiring such warriors, so acquiring such a beast will be no easy task.
Is Travis Moen out of Montreal the guy? Not likely, but he may very well be the guy who gets the role. There are rumours floating out there that Dallas’ captain Brendan Morrow might be available. He’s got a lot of miles on his battle-torn body but he might be the best target. He’s an Olympic hero but is still looking for Stanley Cup success.
Acquiring Brendan Morrow would not be cheap, but the Canucks Stanley Cup window is still open. Perhaps if management adopts a now or never attitude, it will filter down to the players as well. Perhaps if management pays the price, the players will pay the price, too.
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