With the New York Rangers win, the Vancouver Canucks must now endure the indignity of being the sole team still winless in the 2013 NHL playoffs.
Given the way they’re going out, turning the spotlight on embellishing for old time’s sake, I doubt they care too much about dignity.
But they probably care about winning a game. We’ll see in Game 4.
Until the Canucks can win three, the obits will flow fast and furious.
With good reason. They look like a team that’s naked and pinned to a table covered in plastic wrap and duct tape, just waiting for Dexter to finish it.
Can they wiggle free? Well, there’s about 8 minutes left in the episode.
So, how did they get here? It wasn’t animal tranquilizer.
You can start with general manager Mike Gillis who had a rough year, even without the goalie fiasco which, in the end, arguably worked in the Canucks’ favour.
Management’s biggest failure, however, was not getting a centre until the trade deadline and when they did get one it was the undersized Derek Roy who had just flamed out in Dallas.
They knew Manny Malhotra wouldn’t last and they had no confidence in Max Lapierre. In other words, they knew for a year they needed a centre and didn’t get the job done. That’s on them.
So is not landing Raffi Torres, who they were fishing for at the deadline. They were hesitant to overpay, viewing him as a fourth liner. He’s a first liner now. For the Sharks. Trade him for Mason Raymond before Game 1 and how different does this series look?
Meanwhile, Keith Ballard is rotting on the sidelines.
Seeing Keith Ballard and his $4.2 million cap hit in the press box, and Michael Grabner in New York, remains tough to take for a lot of fans. So is the Cody Hodgson trade. The Canucks needed an impact player for 2013, not 2017.
Gillis also masterminded the the Alain Vigneault extension, and, it seems, the coach may have stayed a year too long, only to reprise his seat at the helm of a ship that is sinking in the first round, again.
The Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole played the blame game, and had great fun carving the team. But I found it fascinating Vigneault remained unscathed.
And still we search in vain for the compelling reason to fire Vigneault that’s such a popular theme as this team’s era of excellence winds down, and Gillis’s loyal cornermen try to misdirect the responsibility.
Anyone who thinks that arranging the forward lines differently, or changing the defence pairs, or putting this player or that out on the ice at the end of a game would have made the difference is dreaming in Technicolor.
I’m not sure he’s serious but, of course, I’ll bite.
And in Technicolor too.
(Technicolor component: The “Gillis’s loyal cornermen” line is interesting when you consider the AV apologists outnumber his critics in the media in this town by 10-1. AV has had one consistent critic. OK, maybe two.
In contrast, there are countless members of a smug bunch who applaud the coach in waves during the regular season, then absolve in waves during the playoffs. The irony of it all.)
As someone suggested to me, the reasons the Canucks now sit alone at the bottom of the NHL well are layered, and if it’s anything like lasagna, every one of those layers is smothered in AV.
Let’s peel a few away from the first three games of the series:
1. We all agree, I think, that the fundamental problem for the Canucks is their lack of scoring. It is this year. It was last year. They are 2-11 in their past 13 playoff games, with 17 goals scored.
So, what did the coach do coming out of last year’s debacle? He changed his systems to throttle scoring on his top line.
Elliotte Friedman outlined the changes quite nicely in a recent 30 Thoughts column, titled Canucks Discover Winning Ugly is a Beautiful Thing.
The second change the coaching staff made was asking forwards to play deeper in the defensive end than before.
At their attacking best, the Canucks were known for “blowing the zone,” allowing forwards to break for offensive opportunities before the puck was cleared.
That doesn’t happen as often.
To alter systems in a way that slows down his forwards and gives the Sedins fewer opportunities to generate scoring chances is counterintuitive at the best of times.
These are not the best of times. These are the “why the hell can’t they score goals?” times. Then, you find out it’s partly by design and your mind is blown. Mine was, anyway.
In a lot of ways, it sums up the AV era. It also leaves you wondering what the Sedins could do with a different coach.
Anyone see what OV did this year?
2. Management has continued to advise Vigneault in the past couple of years that playing Kevin Bieksa more than 25 minutes a game is not worth the diminishing returns.
The team concluded there was significant dropoff in his play when Bieksa saw the big minutes, and wanted them cut back.
They didn’t want to see 25-plus-minute games for Bieksa and this is when he is healthy. He is not healthy right now. The groin injury he played through for weeks was a symptom of a more significant problem. It’s believed he will need surgery at the end of the year.
In Friday’s critical Game 2, Bieksa played 27:30. Meanwhile, Jason Garrison, who has been the Canucks’ best player this series, played just 23:15. Try making sense of that.
More troubling, Bieksa was on the ice for the goal that tied the game and the goal that won it for San Jose. Both were late and he didn’t look great on either. And both were right around that 25-minute mark. Surprise!
When the first one went in, he had played 24:09.
When the winner went in on a 2-on-1 that Bieksa totally mishandled, his ice time hit 27:30.
Still sure changing the defensive pairs or altering their deployment wouldn’t have helped?
3. It’s painfully obvious to anyone who watched Game 3 that starting Cory Schneider was a critical mistake.
This is hardly hindsight.
During the first two games, Roberto Luongo was sharp. The Canucks essentially decided to take out one of their best players for someone who hadn’t played in two weeks.
The hunch’s risk, that even one Schneider mistake could cost the Canucks the game, wasn’t anywhere near the reward, the off-chance Schneider could pitch a shutout despite the rust.
Yes, Schneider had been sensational before during long layoffs, but he’s never had one like this.
Schneider had 13 days between starts. He was off the ice for seven of them. On another two, he had controlled, limited skates.
His injury may have healed but there’s little chance he could have been 100 per cent without a string of practices to work with Rollie Melanson.
The whole advantage of not trading Luongo was that so that you could start him when he was at 100 per cent and Cory Schneider was at 90 per cent or less.
Schneider didn’t look close to 90 per cent in Game 3’s third period and the advantage which fell into the Canucks laps was pissed away.
There are lots of other coaching issues you could pin on the coach if so inclined. For the second year in a row, he started the playoffs with three forward lines which hadn’t been together all year. Players were surprised he went away from the Roy-Higgins duo which had so much chemistry in the regular season.
He played Andrew Ebbett over Jordan Schroeder.
There is the power play, which continues to under perform and under-utilize Jason Garrison, who has one of the great shots in the league but wasn’t on the ice during Game 3′s critical 4-on-3. The team showed zero creativity this year in trying to incorporate Garrison and his shot on its top unit.
It’s on coaches to find the system that fits its best players. The Canucks didn’t even try.
In Game 2, AV rolled only his top two lines late while clinging to a one-goal lead. Essentially, AV wouldn’t play Lapierre, who was a penalty-killer last year — leaving the Sedins, who were not, out for the 6-on-5 man advantage and they got burned.
Henrik Sedin talked about the players lacking focus and intensity in Game 1, suggesting the team gave it away just like last year.
Several players said they were caught off guard by the Sharks layered forecheck just like last year.
In Game 3, the team admitted it couldn’t keep its composure just like last year.
Bieksa did admit that the Canucks played right into the hands of the Sharks on Sunday by not maintaining a level of composure to avoid taking or being sucked into infractions.
“Absolutely,” he admitted. “After the whistle stuff, we can’t have any of that anymore. We have to learn our lesson and go from there. They have good power play but we have to make them earn their chances. Obviously the onus is on us to be more disciplined.”
If AV wasn’t out-coached in the first three games, there is no such thing. He has now lost six straight games to Todd McLellan and the Sharks.
In seven years, it’s been a lot of the same problems for a team that has made it out of the second round once. Is that on the coach?
Not to mention bigger concepts for which there are no answer, like the possibility a different coach would have helped get Alex Edler’s act together or maybe, just maybe one out there could get through to Ryan Kesler and get him to use his wingers more.
No matter how thin and old you think the Canucks are, there is no way they should be the only team in the playoffs without a win.
You do a survey before the playoffs and at least 70 per cent of respondents outside Vancouver and San Jose would take the Canucks’ roster over the Sharks’.
They are not down 3-0 because the roster isn’t good enough to win a playoff game.
My number-loving friends over at Canucks Army suggest the data shows this series is a lot closer than people think.
It shows despite the Canucks being down 3-0, it’s essentially been a coin flip.
If it’s that close, doesn’t every coaching decision matter that much more?