A broken power play will keep Canucks out of playoffs

Jan 18 2017, 5:57 pm

Let’s talk about the Canucks power play. I mean, everybody else is, so why shouldn’t we?

Through 46 games, Vancouver ranks 29th in the NHL with the man advantage, clicking at just 13.3%. The only team worse, surprisingly, is Detroit.

It absolutely is the difference between the Canucks being comfortably above the playoff bar and fighting tooth and nail to get in, as they are today.

The head coach knows it, too.

“I said right from the start of the year, if we’re going to make the playoffs, we need our power play to go,” Willie Desjardins said on Sunday.

Fans and media alike have been trying to come up with ways to fix it all season.

The most popular suggestion has been to change the personnel, and there’s certainly validity to that argument. Desjardins doesn’t believe so though, bristling at suggestions that players need to change after the Canucks went 0-for-3 against the Devils on Sunday.

The Canucks do need new players for the Sedins to play with on the power play. The problem is that they might need to look outside of this roster to find the right guys.

The Canucks are stagnant at 5-on-4 (and 5-on-3 for that matter), and they don’t have a lot of shooting options that scare the other team. That’s death to the Sedins’ top strength, which is finding the open man with skillful passes.

They’ve been able to enter the zone and set-up fairly well this year, but what’s missing from the Canucks these days are passes that go through the PK box.

Just look at how many times Vancouver used to slice through the opposition’s PK unit:

The above clip is from a regular season game in 2010-11. That’s Jonathan Toews and Niklas Hjalmarsson the Sedins and Mikael Samuelsson made look silly. Prior to that chance, Christian Ehrhoff put a bullet shot on net with Ryan Kesler screening in front. Ah, the good old days.

The power play wasn’t a glaring issue on Tuesday night against the Predators, given they had just one opportunity with the man advantage.

But they still had enough time to make 5-on-4 look like this:

I think I saw people move the puck with more ease on the choppy ice at Trout Lake last week.

But when you look at the players that Willie Desjardins has at his disposal, you have to wonder if changing players on the top unit is merely like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

The Canucks power play isn’t good this year, and it hasn’t been good for a long time.

Last year only two teams in the NHL had a worse power play, as Vancouver converted on just 15.8% of their chances. Their power play was good in Willie Desjardins’ first season in Vancouver, when they scored on 18.9% of their power plays, but that’s the anomaly. In John Tortorella’s only season in charge, they finished 26th (15.2%). In Alain Vigneault’s last season it was 22nd (15.8%).

Even during the last Presidents’ Trophy season in 2011-12, the power play (which finished 12th), fell apart during the second half of the season, converting at a putrid 15.1 percent after New Year’s Eve.

The two players the Canucks miss desperately with the man advantage are Kesler and Ehrhoff. Kesler, was a right-shot who could rotate as a net-front presence or a one-timer option on the back door. Ehrhoff was a mobile defenceman with a hard, quick release.

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The anomaly year in 2014-15, is the one that gives hope. The Canucks had success back then with Radim Vrbata (rock star Vrbata, not that guy we saw in year two) and Yannick Weber.

Yes, Yannick Weber.

What the 2014-15 season showed is that the Canucks could have success with the man advantage and it didn’t necessarily take stars to make it click. But it did need the right fit.

Troy Stecher has shown flashes of brilliance and a willingness to shoot the puck, so maybe he could play the Weber role. But Sutter?

He can shoot the puck and he’s right-handed. But for whatever reason, it hasn’t worked.

Whether the coaches have him standing in the wrong spots or he’s incapable of making the right reads, Sutter and the Sedins have gone together like oil and water.

So, absolutely, try something new. Bo Horvat is leading the team in scoring while Loui Eriksson has a long track record of success on the power play. Both are good net-front presence options. But they aren’t back-door one-timer options like Kesler or Vrbata used to be, because they’re both left handed.

Count me as someone who is skeptical that the right players for the Sedins exist on this roster at all.

Vancouver needs a right-shot that can play net-front as well as make good reads for one-timers in front of the net and on the back door play.

Maybe one day Jake Virtanen can be that player. Or perhaps Brock Boeser is the man for the job. But they’re not on the roster right now.

At 36 years-old, Henrik and Daniel aren’t the players they once were, but they’re still excellent playmakers. They need weapons at their disposal. They need a trigger man.

Certainly, they can’t do it alone.

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