After just four games, please tell me we’re not overly worried about this team…
— Nick Bondi (@nickbondi) January 19, 2021
The Vancouver Canucks are now four games into this shortened 56-game season, and they haven’t gotten off to a strong start.
However, any knowledgeable hockey fan knows that starts can be deceiving. The Canucks went 4-0 to start the 2016-17 season before they finished with the second-worst record in hockey.
That being said, it’s imperative to turn it around in short order, especially in a truncated season where you only play divisional opponents.
Here are five glaring issues that the Canucks need to address before they start winning hockey games.
1. An undisciplined start for the Canucks
It’s hard to win games when you can’t stay out of the penalty box.
a night of offensive zone penalties. #Canucks shooting themselves in the foot. Repeatedly
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) January 19, 2021
The Canucks currently lead the league with 21 minor penalties through the first four games. Unsurprisingly, they are also second-worst in the league with a -6 penalty differential.
Penalties were a bit of an issue last season for the Canucks as well. They took the 11th-most minors last season, but they made up for it by drawing the fourth-most penalties in the league.
2. The penalty kill isn’t clicking
This problem sticks out even more with the number of penalties the Canucks are taking.
The Canucks penalty kill has allowed an unflattering seven goals in four games this season. Vancouver’s lack of success shorthanded has Jay Beagle really stressing out.
Jay Beagle on the #Canucks' struggles on the PK: "You lose some sleep after a game like that, because you know it's the reason we lost."
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) January 18, 2021
How did the Canucks respond after these comments? By allowing two more power play goals against the Flames on Monday night.
I guess it’s another couple of sleepless nights for poor Beagle.
3. Power play flames out
Arguably the Canucks’ greatest weapon last season was their deadly power play.
It was lights-out during the regular season, and that success carried over into the playoffs.
However, that previous success has not carried over into this season. The Canucks are currently goalless in 15 power play opportunities.
Through 4 games, #Canucks are a combined 0-for-15 on the power play
It’s just 2nd time in club history VAN hasn’t scored a PPG over their first 4 games
The only other season where Canucks didn’t score on the man advantage in opening 4GP was 1970/71 season (0-for-14)#SNStats
— Joey Kenward (@kenwardskorner) January 19, 2021
Unlike the penalty kill, which is allowing chances at a high rate, there should be more optimism with the power play. The Canucks are top-10 in a number of 5-on-4 categories including shots for, shot attempts for, and scoring chances f0r.
They’ve had some unlucky moments too. Pettersson’s rang one off the post against the Oilers, and another shot went off the crossbar late in the game against Calgary on Monday night.
The Canucks also just got J.T. Miller back in the line-up. He was vital to the power play’s success last season, tying Quinn Hughes for the team lead with 25 man-advantage points.
A lack of finish is certainly an issue, but there are reasons for optimism that this dangerous unit will breakthrough.
4. Pettersson’s not himself
Let’s start by saying that Elias Pettersson will figure it out.
However, it’s clear that the superstar centre has been in a bit of a slump through four games.
#Canucks' Elias Pettersson really taking ownership for his penalties tonight.
"I was just disappointed in myself for being selfish."
Also talked about "letting the team down."
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) January 19, 2021
While he’s still drawing penalties and getting chances on the power play, he’s also taking undisciplined penalties, and his line has been outplayed at even strength.
The Canucks top line largely played against Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian against the Edmonton Oilers. In Calgary, they mainly faced Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk’s line.
Pettersson’s line lost the possession battle in both matchups. Aside from a couple of even-strength goals against the Oilers in the opener, it hasn’t been a great start to the year for the top line.
They will figure it out. That being said, the longer it takes them, the longer this Canucks slide might last.
5. New team, same old defensive issues
Despite a couple of new additions, the Canucks aren’t any better at playing defence early in the season.
Through four games, only the Oilers have allowed more shots against at even-strength. The Canucks are also dead last in the league with an expected goals against of 8.58.
Playing defence is an issue for both the forwards and the defence. As mentioned, Pettersson’s line has been caved in terms of possession. Newcomer Travis Hamonic has looked rusty. Alex Edler has been showing his age, leading the team by being on the ice for five even-strength goals against.
You should expect this team to turn it around offensively. There’s less certainty about whether or now they can improve on defence, based on their track record from the past couple of seasons.