The thing about prolonged winning streaks is it enables you to ignore the problems.
With the Kings stealing two points last night, it marks the third obvious game in recent memory (Toronto and Tampa Bay being the other two) where Vancouver showed little problem playing down to the level of their opponent. Only those first two times they managed to escape with the points.
The Kings, playing for their post season lives, took it to them and rightfully so. They outworked a Canucks team that wasn't terribly interested in disciplined play; then chuck in Vigneault, like every good junkie, running back to his line juggling fix to ward off the shakes and it's a wonder they escaped with just a modest 3-2 loss.
There's a lot to be irked at here, but I'm going to take aim at their special teams and then old #13. Join me while I start cursing.
It's been no secret the Canucks special teams are pathetic. Gutwrenchingly pathetic. Once in awhile they'll shock you with two PP goals in a game, but otherwise they sit 17th in the league on the man advantage which is akin to saying it's a car wreck.
And if the PP is a car wreck, then the PK (25th in the league) is a high speed train collision that bursts into flames and scorches millions of acres of southern California. Why is this not a larger concern to anyone?
Two years ago, they had the #20 PP offset by the #1 PK. Last year both slipped: #18 PP and #14 PK. Now here they sit, a lot more offensive minded than last year and sporting a healthier defense and their numbers are the same on the man advantage and worse on the kill? How?
I've bitched a lot about their power play being perimeter based: they let the Sedins cycle down low and, if one of them can't escape free to the front, you pop it back to the point man or pass off to the guy on the end boards. Every single AV-led season has been that way. So fine. This isn't EA Sports where you just flip from 'funnel' to 'crash the net' (wait, can you? please tell me you can). Point being it's not precisely hard to defend against as so many teams keep showing them.
But how does this bode going forward? Sean took a look recently at the past Stanley Cup winners and the experience they had on each roster (note: Vancouver is the only team currently playoff bound without any). So I figured I'd do something similar; namely, I want to know where the previous 10 Stanley Cup winners ranked on special teams, both in the regular and post season. I ultimately expanded it to include the losers of the SC Finals as well so I had an idea of at least where the top two teams every season ranked:
And just to combine them all so you can taste the rainbow:
And here are your averages:
SC Winner, Regular Season PP - 8.6
SC Winner, Regular Season PK - 8.6
SC Winner, Post Season PP - 6.1
SC Winner, Post Season PK - 5
SC Loser, Regular Season PP - 11.9
SC Loser, Regular Season PK - 9.5
SC Loser, Post Season PP - 8.3
SC Loser, Post Season PK - 6.4
A few things I took away from this:
1. I ain't the Forechecker by a long shot so you should be applauding I used Excel without a building collapsing.
2. Is it not freaky odd that the SC winner's regular season special teams numbers are exactly identical?
3. 2002-2003 was a crazy year for the regular season numbers since the Devils had the worst PP and the best PK. They won the Cup that year too.
4. I'm impressed with the special teams for both the winners and losers in the post season. Just to maintain the #6 or #8 PP slots respectively is tough considering you have fourteen other teams in there, eight of which get bounced in the first round who could conceivably, because they played so few games, have PP numbers in the high teens or low 20's.
5. Vancouver's current special team numbers aren't anywhere near either group. Just sayin'.
Food for thought.
But speaking of special, there's Mats Sundin. Want to give the mother of all wake up calls? Vigneault should sit him for a game. I don't say this because I expect a point per game pace, but the quality of play has been limping along for some time. Especially last night.
The first period alone he could have put the Canucks on the board early, thereby changing the momentum of a period that, as it went along, saw the Kings be the faster and more aggressive of the teams. His first chance - a puck that found him on Quick's short side - he missed high and wide. That was one minute in.
Fast forward to the final minutes of the first, Vancouver is down 2-0 and I believe Demitra connected with him in full stride as he burst into the King's zone only to have him drop pass it back to Kesler, a few feet behind him and with a defenseman on his heels. Kesler's reaction was probably like yours: "What the fuck?"
It's these little things like that I find inexcusable, particularly with Sundin. His best asset, besides his size when he decides to use it behind the net, has been the effect on Kesler. His contribution to the team's offense is spotty at best and even that I have let slide since the Demitra and Kesler have been humming along since he was slotted between them.
Sundin and Kesler both were riding three game point streaks into last night; Demo was riding a two game. And still, with a weaker team on the ice, Sundin offered this: 19:44 TOI, no points, one shot, -1 and an interference call that lead to - once again - the winning goal.
And if this is the Sundin that we should expect when/if the playoffs arrive, one who is as blatantly hesitant with the puck as he has been, one that is more comfortable with blind drop passes rather than accepting a hit or making a play, then it amounts to a guy that isn't worth a fraction of his millions. Demitra - second only to Salo in terms of fragility - is playing with more heart and reckless abandon than Sundin. What does that tell you? Could it be that, since his triumphant return to Toronto three weeks ago, he's mentally tuned out and will just coast on the drive of his linemates until the playoffs, should this team get there?
And if that's the case, and Vigneault is any sort of coach with ethical fiber, he'll sit old #13 square in the press box for a game and call up the likes of Jason Krog or whoever the hell else is going to bring a Burrows-like dedication to every split second of ice time he earns. Think about the message that would send, "You come to play for 60 minutes or you sit. Period."
Naturally this is wishful thinking. I suspect the powers that be are too scared to disrupt the delicate character of this team least another January fall in their lap. Fine I get that.
So then if sitting him is verboden, at least call him out. Vigneault has called out everyone from Wellwood to Mitchell, O'Brien to Luongo, so why does Sundin get a pass when now, during the home stretch, is when they need him?
Enough. Either make this guy accountable for the quality of his play or get him off the ice. It's the least you can do to the consumers who are soon going to be paying more for this product.