The New Attitude: Enough for the Playoffs?

The other day I saw that my younger brother had signed up at nucksmisconduct. I was happy to see that he'd decided to stop lurking and had joined our community, so I shot him an email to let him know my account name. The first thing he mentioned was my Canucks playoff preview from last year and he said I should write another one. Truth be told, that fanpost had completely slipped my mind and there were no plans to write another one.

In that fanpost from a year ago, I asked everyone, "What is the No. 1 reason the Vancouver Canucks will, or will not, win the Stanley Cup?" It didn't garner a lot of attention, but the lovely folks here committed a variety of interesting answers. It was while reading those responses that I was inspired to do this follow up. Let's see what a few of us had to say:

My biggest concern right now is D zone coverage. Not just D men but the whole team. Too many scoring chances against right now and since our goalie is struggling we need to limit chances until he gets back to form.

I’d be lying if i said i weren’t a little nervous about the D. ehrhoff’s a guy i’m comfortable with anywhere on the ice, but not against top comp. i’d really like to see Big Thick Willie back, because he’s about our only defenseman that i feel really comfortable with matched against a top line. The rest are okay, but compared to Chicago, ... it’s amateur week.

More good news: team depth is excellent. Grabner looks poised out there and seems awfully close to breaking out. If he does, then add back Samuelsson and Demo and the team will have three scoring lines instead of just two.

Plus I expect Luongo to bounce back. I really think he’s just a little burnt out right now and should take a few more games off.

The prevalent themes were that the Canucks were an offensive threat through out the line-up, the defence is worrisome, and Roberto Luongo will stop struggling in the playoffs. Well, we all know how that turned out. The Canucks were an offensive threat, the defence floundered, and Loungo wasn't a difference maker.

So what about this year? The Canucks are still an offensive threat: Last year they were ranked 2nd and this year they're 1st. They're also leaders in goals against per game, whereas last year they were 12th. And as Semi_Colon showed recently, Luongo's having the best numbers of his career when entering the playoffs.

Last April, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but now we have even more. On defence, we have the off-season signing of Dan Hamhuis, the reemergence of Kevin Bieksa, and stalwart play from Keith Ballard, Aaron Rome, and Andrew Alberts.  On forward, the top 6 remains essentially the same, but the third line no longer holds surprises such as Kyle Wellwood or Pavol Demitra.  The 4th line may actually be relevant with Rick Rypien, Steve Bernier, and Ryan Johnson being replaced by Maxim Lapierre, Tanner Glass, and Victor Oreskovich (Or Jeff Tambellini).  And again, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider!

Being confident and positive has been the flavour of the week for the Canucks media and it's justified. I haven't even mentioned the improvement in special teams. But now I'm going to go back to my original question. Last year I twisted it to my purpose and told you the biggest reason the Canucks will or will not win the cup and I'll do that again. My previous response was that they would win if the defence played well, or they would lose if they didn't. That postseason was highlighted by the Bieksa slide and Alberts chasing the whistle into the corner.

This year? The key word is discipline. Note that I didn't say the penalty kill. I have faith that in a 7-game series, Newell Brown will be able to adjust the special teams accordingly. Let me tell you why it's discipline that could be the problem:

Who's taking the defensive zone draws? It used to be that Manny Malhotra would take the majority of those, and he'd kill a lot of time on the PK. There's been a lot of ink spilled over the loss of Malhotra, but nowhere is it more evident on the shorthanded dot. To replace him successfully, either Mason Raymond or Lapierre need to start winning those draws. If not, be prepared to see an increase in Henrik Sedin's PK time and with that, either less EVTOI, or an increase in total TOI. And that could lead to a decline in Hank's offensive performance.

As well, the Canucks play a puck possession game. They hold on to that puck, move it deep, and cycle it. It takes the other team out of the game if they're forechecking like crazy and they can't get the puck. That's how the Canucks took over the recent game against the Predators, by limiting the effectiveness of their aggressive forecheck. While the Canucks also took two penalties in the third and successfully killed them off, an untimely penalty could tilt the ice against them. In the recent game against the Oilers, there was also an aggressive first period forecheck. The difference? The Oilers drew 2 penalties, capitalized on both, and took the feet out from under the Canucks.

Lastly, as a team and as individuals, these players have matured quite a bit. The year before they also talked about this, about the grit they had, and the character they'd shown with all those come-from-behind wins. But before it was fun, and now it's become business. They say their highs and lows have been smoothed out this season. I want to believe that, but is it true? How long before a late hit by Drew Doughty, or a little mouthing off by the Chicago Blackhawks bench, or Corey Perry doing his thing, becomes too much for them? If they're down by two games, down by 3 goals, how will the frustration manifest itself? If they face a defensive team with a strong forecheck and a hot goalie like the Predators, how will they react to their offense being stifled? I'm worried that quiet swagger we've seen might become something else in the adversity of the playoffs.

So they need to be disciplined. I know they won't be every game, but they need to be at the start of each when they're facing the same players and the same problems. And if they are, then they'll find themselves with post-season success. And if they're not, they might not make it out of the first round.

That's my number one reason why the Canucks will or will not win the Stanley Cup.  Now I want to hear what you guys have to say.

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