If not for Loui Eriksson getting injured in the first period, Twitter might’ve looked a lot like it did Saturday night.
The Canucks had beaten L.A. 4-3, but all anyone wanted to talk about was Willie’s deployment (slash non-deployment) of Nikolay Goldobin. Vancouver’s newest player was benched after his second period goal and #FireWillie was trending.
On Sunday, the Canucks beat Anaheim 2-1.
Goldobin saw three shifts in the third period – only two after Anaheim pulled within a goal of the Canucks. And this was with just three right wingers at the coach’s disposal.
So if you want to look at it a certain way, Willie was probably lucky Eriksson got injured early in the first. Because of that, Goldobin played a few more shifts, took Eriksson’s spot on the power play, and ended the night with 12:41 of ice time.
Fans got to see Goldobin, and yes, he made watching the team more interesting and bearable.
Here’s the play that knocked Eriksson out of the game.
That injury had another positive effect too. All season, Eriksson’s been one of Willie’s favourite all-situation players, and many nights he leads the team in playing time.
With him out, Granlund filled in. Not only did he lead the Canucks in ice time and scored a goal, he played a gritty game in the third, including an incredible last minute shift where he got the puck in his own end.
Instead of firing it towards the opponent’s empty net hoping for a goal, Granlund took a look and lugged the puck to centre ice before dumping and changing. Take note Goldy – that’s the kind of play that makes Willie fall in love. Score all the breakaway goals you want, he might not even notice.
“Compete hard” – that’ll get you playing time in Willie’s world.
Before getting into the rest of the SixPack, here’s Horvat’s 20th goal of the season. Score 20, you get included before #1 of the SixPack. Hey, goals aren’t an easy thing to come by on the Canucks this year.
Oh, and for those of you eternal optimists – the Canucks are just six points back of a playoff spot now.
1. Bachman saves the day (and game)
Sure Horvat and Granlund scored the goals, but this win was all on Richard Bachman.
He’s 2-0 in starts as a Canuck now, by the way.
Here he was in the first period, first on Kesler.
Then on Silfverberg.
In the second period, he made a huge save on Rickard Rakell after a nearly costly giveaway by Mike Chaput.
In the third, the Ducks came on hard, outshooting Vancouver 19-4 and Bachman allowed just one goal.
He finished the night stopping 43 of 44 shots for a .977 save percentage.
Might not be a bad idea for Vancouver to give him a few more starts before Marky returns. They could potentially save a lot of cap space if he could be a reliable backup for Markstrom next year, instead of having to bring Miller back.
That’s what a forward-thinking organization would do in this situation.
2. Spotlight on Goldy
Let’s be honest, more than half the reason most Canucks fans are still watching games is to see the new guy.
Again, lucky for Willie, Eriksson was injured, because two of Goldobin’s best chances came as he filled in for Eriksson on the power play.
Here was the first – he’s the one shooting from the slot here.
Sure he missed the net, but he was going full sniper-mode on that shot.
Here was another power play chance, this one a two-on-one with Daniel Sedin – Goldobin’s on the right.
And this one actually happened before the one above, but I’m putting it last because to me, it shows his goalscoring instinct the most.
If Megna gets this puck, you can be sure he’s shoveling it into the goaltender’s stick, trying to grind it in. Not Goldy – he get’s the puck beside the net and decides he’s going to go high, probably trying to bank it off the goalie and in.
That’s a goalscorer’s touch, and it should make you excited for what he’ll do around the net in the future.
Again, Goldobin was pretty much benched after Anaheim pulled within a goal. Willie’s trust is harder to earn than a flight on Air Miles, you know.
After the game Willie spoke about Goldy’s game.
“He’s still a little tentative. He doesn’t seem quite comfortable yet, and that’s not wrong for a guy – I think he’s only played two or three games this year and being deep in the season teams are trying a lot harder right now than they did at the start of the year, so it’s a tough time for him to come in.
But I thought he battled and I think he’s good with the puck.”
To help you decipher Willie’s code, he means: He’s not battling hard enough or strong enough on the puck. I’m not playing him in close situations. Go away.
3. Hank’s not right
There’s been some speculation that one or both of the Sedins are playing injured again this season. Hard to disagree when you see they’re just not executing.
Watching them closely, for Henrik it sure appears to be more than just “losing a step”.
In the first and second periods of the game, he had two great chances to set Granlund up for tap-in goals. On the first, Hank missed the puck altogether, and on the second, his pass was picked off by Kevin Bieksa. Neither play made me think he was playing healthy.
Then in the third, this was Hank trying to protect the puck on the far boards.
To make it worse, that’s Kevin Bieksa checking him. Look, there was a time when Bieksa played a heavy, physical game, that could knock a Sedin off the puck. That time was over four years ago, though.
Later, on Anaheim’s one goal, Hank intercepted the pass on its way through…
… he then gave it to Eaves for the goal.
We’re used to Hank having quicker hands than this.
For a couple weeks, Jason Botchford has been saying he’s been told one Canuck is playing with an injured wrist, but he doesn’t know who it is.
Could it be Henrik? His lack of quick decisions – usually a staple of his game – is making me think it’s him.
4. Willie’s World
We’ve seen and heard the take in this tweet a lot this season, and to me it’s not right.
I don’t believe another coach changes the outcome of this team but the player deployment isn’t defendable.
— Ryan Henderson (@RJHenderson7) March 5, 2017
Whether winning is the best thing for the team right now is another conversation (hint: it probably isn’t), the question here is would another coach have different results with the same roster?
If you’re a regular SixPack reader, you’ll know I’ve written at least 10 times this season that coaching cost the team a win, and I don’t even do every single game.
Whether it was power play deployment (Sutter and Megna), power play formation (Stecher’s shot has been the first and only option for most of the season), or the Sedins’ linemate – for some reason Willie was loathe to play Hansen or Burrows there all season, thereby nullifying his top scoring line, Willie’s decisions have been costing the team goals and wins all season long.
Simply, if the Canucks had won only five more games this season, they’d have 10 more points and are in the playoffs.
If you don’t think that’s directly due to the guy who makes the decisions on the bench, you must be the kind of person who doesn’t believe global warming is a thing.
Trevor Linden talked about the job Willie’s done on TSN 1040 Thursday:
“Willie’s done a good job guys. Through all the ups and downs of this season, the one thing that I can say is this group has played hard. They’ve competed every night. That’s a credit to the type of people we have in that locker room, certainly the Hansens, the Burrows, the Sutters, the Sedins the Tanevs, all of these guys, they come to play.
Very few times can I leave the rink and say they didn’t leave it all on the line, and that has a lot to do with Willie and his staff. They’ve done a really good job this year and it’s good to see some of our young guys take a step – Bo and Troy and Nikita just kind of move forward and get a toe hold in the NHL.”
Reading those comments, my first thought is who should get credit for the fact the team has competed every night?
Considering the Sedins, Burrows, Hansen – the guys who were leading the team – have given that same top-level effort through four different coaches with the Canucks, I’d conclude it’s more on them and each of their work ethics than the coaches for pushing them.
The second thing that crosses my mind is while we’d fully expect Linden to defend his head coach, a little honesty wouldn’t hurt. The team’s power play is ranked 28th, it’s penalty kill is 27th. Deployment has been an issue all season long.
The fans certainly appreciated the honesty the team displayed through its actions at the trade deadline this week – maybe Linden could admit coaching could be better?
5. It’s heating up in Willie’s World
Before the game, Willie spoke to TSN 1040 about the success of the Eriksson-Horvat-Baertschi line – a line many, including this SixPack writer, have wanted to see since about the 10th game of the season.
“They’re all good players, so they have good chemistry because they’re good players.”
That’s the depth of reasoning behind his line deployment? You could say those who read the comments weren’t overly impressed…
@omarcanuck and if that’s the thought process why did it take 58 games to have them together
— Nathan Perry #7 (@nathe4815162342) March 6, 2017
This is the best take, btw.
@omarcanuck This is a perfect explanation of why Brandon Sutter doesn’t have chemistry with anyone.
— Aaron (@nobikes) March 6, 2017
Here are some thoughts on Willie from the past couple of days.
Willie is failing. Period.
Lastly, just because you’re a “good teacher” doesn’t mean you’re good with grooming young players.
— Clay Imoo (@CanuckClay) March 5, 2017
(Clay is known for his constant positivity, and his music, in case you’re unaware)
Actual quote from a @TSN1040 caller: “This Willie is a mental case, he needs psychiatric care.” 😂😂😂😂😂
— Squampton (@squampton) March 5, 2017
— Eric H (@shultzie73) March 5, 2017
The Twitter fans aren’t all coming with daggers and flamethrowers, though. Some have solutions.
— Ian (@ianlusher) March 5, 2017
— Arr Sea (@6o4boi) March 5, 2017
They’re pretty good solutions, you have to admit.
6. Why can’t they say ‘rebuild’?
Elliotte Friedman was asked how long he thinks Vancouver’s rebuild will take on HNIC Saturday night. His answer:
“I think it’s going to take time. I think there’s an owner in Vancouver who’s impatient, and I think that’s why no one in the organization will use the word ‘rebuild.'”
During Sunday’s game Ron MacLean asked Linden if the Canucks are in a rebuild or a retool. Linden’s answer:
“You know Ron, I think it’s all semantics…”
BONUS: Boeser coming?
Canucks play-by-play voice Jon Abbott, speaking with Blake Price on the pregame show, said he thinks Brock Boeser could finish the season with the Canucks, and when he spoke to him before season that was his goal.
With Boeser’s University of North Dakota having a two-game quarter final series against St. Cloud State next Friday and Saturday (March 10-11), his season could be done in less than a week.
Want Canucks fans to keep paying tickets to watch games? Boeser playing would do it.
Of course Willie will have to be willing to play him if he gets here. That will likely be the tallest order.