These are not happy times for the Vancouver Canucks.
After surprising everyone with a 4-0 record to start the season, the Canucks have come crashing back to Earth. Seven straight losses have the Canucks are reeling with a 4-6-1 record, good enough for fifth-worst in the NHL.
To make matters worse, Vancouver has lost while playing a dull, low-scoring hockey.
Here’s a list of terrible facts about the team so far:
- They’re last in goals for per game (1.45) and not close to the team in second-last
- They’ve held a lead for a grand total of 28:50
- They’ve been shut out in four of their last five games
- They’ve scored two goals in the first period of games (that’s 11 periods)
- They’re last in even strength goals
- They’re last in power play goals
- Loui Eriksson doesn’t have a goal
- Bo Horvat doesn’t have an assist
Their 14 goals in regulation time through 11 games has equalled the same number of goals that the Vancouver Whitecaps scored in their first 11 MLS games.
The Canucks are out to their worst start to a season since 2001-02, when they started 3-7-1, back in a time where they didn’t benefit from 3-on-3 overtime and shootouts.
So yeah, this can’t be what management envisioned.
When a team starts like this, somebody usually pays the price. Given that trades are hard to make, the finger usually gets pointed at the head coach.
Take it away Dave Pratt!
The question needs to be asked.
Can Head Coach Willie Desjardins survive this road trip?
The drums of discontent are continuing to pound!
— Dave Pratt (@DavePratt1040) November 4, 2016
And guess what, it’s about to get even worse:
Update from Desjardins
Edler (seen at rink) day-to-day with Upper Body
Tanev "little longer" (than day-to-day)
Recall coming #Canucks
— Jon Abbott (@HockeyAbbs) November 4, 2016
This seven-game losing streak could easily stretch longer given that the team is in the middle of a stretch where they’ll play six road games in nine days.
Playing the Leafs on Saturday should be a tonic for victory, but winning games without their top-two defencemen is a tough ask.
So is it time to can the coach? For me, the answer is no… Although management won’t allow this team to lose (and not score) forever.
Now, I’m not naive to think that the coaching staff is not at fault at all in this situation because they certainly have. Giving Derek Dorsett is a shift in the final two minutes of a game where you need a goal to tie it up on Thursday is a testament to that.
As are the team’s struggles on the power play, an area where coaches have traditionally been able to make a tangible impact. They’re currently dead-last in the league with the man advantage.
When it comes time to decide the fate of the coach, what teams should look at is the process, not the result.
The past two losses – both shutouts – have not been on the coaching. Vancouver played well against Montreal and Ottawa, but couldn’t score. That’s not on the coach, that’s on the players to finish their scoring chances.
At some point, we need to put the focus on Vancouver’s best players: Henrik and Daniel Sedin. At age 36, they can’t do what they used to, but if they’re not scoring, this team won’t be winning. Neither twin has a point in the last five games, and they have just five points each in 11 games. That production is below even the most pessimistic expectations.
The Sedins have been put in positions to succeed. They’ve played with Loui Eriksson and Jannik Hansen, both good fits on their line, and they’ve received a boatload of power play time.
Of course, a lot of players go through scoring slumps, and the Sedins are no exception. If your team can continue winning, then you’re off the hook. When nobody else picks up the slack and you lose, the pressure mounts.
When a team is losing, you can always nitpick coaching decisions because coaches always have options. Should Jake Virtanen be playing more? Yes. Should Bo Horvat be put into a better spot to score? Sure. You can make a strong case for both of these decisions.
If the option chosen resulted in a loss, then it’s possible another decision would have resulted in a win, right?
But sooner or later, something has to give, and the axe is likely to fall on the head coach if the losing continues at an alarming rate.
Taking a bigger picture approach though, you have to wonder when the team on the ice is working hard – as they have – but can’t buy a goal, maybe the players just aren’t good enough. And if the players aren’t good enough in a year where management is trying to make the playoffs, then it won’t be long before the finger pointing moves away from the head coach towards the GM.
What this season has confirmed to this point, is that the Canucks’ performance has been a team effort throughout the organization: management, coaching, players. They need a lot to go right to win games, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s not pretty.