It has been happening for a couple of seasons here now, where a place that was once a hard place to get points out of is leaking them to the visitors. It has made the start of this season one that has been decent, instead be one that is causing consternation. Will it be a short term thing, or are we in for a season of pain and worry as the kids all grow?
That is part of a youth movement, make no mistake. While I am certainly not putting the recent home ice suckage on them, ( I am a firm believer in the "win and lose as a team" credo. Share in the shame as much as the glory... ), sometimes it is simply a fact that you learn from pressure and mistakes, and the only way the kids will learn is by going through these things.
Let's start with the player in the Youth Brigade that has most impressed. Ben Hutton. The 22 year old rookie was a bit of a mystery to some, but there were hints of his game in his draft year season at University of Maine. In NCAA Hockey, it is important to remember that a team can be hugely different from one season to the next. BHutts10 showed what he could do with teammates around him in that year. He has shown the confidence in his abilities and some under appreciated talents to do what some thought was impossible for any defender on the roster. He has started to make Luca Sbisa look good.
Yet, on the first goal in yet another third period / OT loss against against Detroit, he misread the skill and speed at which Pulkinnen was going to spin with the puck, and was never able to recover enough to stop the goal. It was not a huge mistake, and you have to give it to the other guy and his talent in the NHL ( quite often, the other guys are pretty good too ! ), but it was a mistake nonetheless. I would imagine he remembers that they are a bit quicker at this level next time. You have to be impressed with the young defender overall though. Another thing to like ? He has started to develop chemistry with Luca Sbisa. With defensive pairings, a lot of that is just the two players developing an understanding of where each other is going to be on certain plays. That understanding begets confidence.
That confidence showed itself in the loss to the Capitals. Under Trotz, the Caps are a pretty scary team. He has Ovie skating 200' to deny a goal at one end, while still getting to his "magic shooty spot" to score the game winner on the other end. Russia's best player is a part of it, of course, but the Trotz addition has them playing with a defensive zeal that a certain Nashville bunch were known for under his watch. That is scary.
That talent and system includes a pretty hard forecheck, and Ben Hutton simply skated through it with an ease and confidence that was scary. Watching that game, I was also struck by how Sbisa and Hutton are getting on the same page, the team's benefit. They are the third pairing, and sometimes are going to get the bad matchup, and struggle as a result, but they are making headway as a respectable pairing. When you are a third pairing, you are the duo the other team targets to get on with changes. Willie Desjardins has taken to putting them out with the Sedins and their linemate now as well. That is also an example of how Hutton has progressed. His passing and offensive thinking makes him a good fit with the creative Wonder Twins to boot. Hutton has earned his ice time, and will continue to do so, by the look of it. Screw the "nine game thing" kid. Find a place. You're staying.
Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen have been in and out of the lineup, and their path to a West End apartment with an English Bay view is a little less certain. Both have shown the talents to be in the NHL, but with Chis Higgins return looming on the horizon, the fight for ice time is only going to get more intense.
Jared McCann might be the one that gets sent back in the end, if only because Virtanen is readier in the purely physical attributes sense. He has, in the parlance, an "NHL body" already, while McCann still has a bit of filling out to do. You can see it in his game already though. Much like the man everyone compares him to, McCann will be linked to Kesler, what with the deal that sent said man to Anaheim and brought back the pick that became number 91. Never mind the similarities in their games.
Ryan Kesler came in with the same kind of determination. He started out on the fourth line, with his Terror Twin ( still one of my favorite nicknames in the lexicon of Canuck nicknames ) Alex Burrows, and the rest was history. Kes' played a 200' game from the get go, and Jared McCann has had that 4th line centre position on lock ( at least until the third period, where it seems the Kid Line centre Bo Horvat becomes the third line centre, with Sven, Jared and / or Jake all riding the pine, except for special circumstance. It was nice to see the coach get away from this against the Wings, regardless of whether a loss happened. They need to play in all situations ) , and shows the offensive flair that might have even been a bit underrated in his draft year. The Canucks could do worse than having a Kesler Jr in the lineup. Who knows ? Maybe he even defies predictions and sticks around. Mr Benning has always said he will make the roster work if a person deserves to be there, and if that means a move to keep the Youth Movement on fast forward, then that is what it means.
Local guy Jake Virtanen has been a physical force in his four games so far.He has 15 hits already, which is tied with noted "banger" Derek Dorsett, as well as Dan Hamhuis for the team lead. The leaders all have played more games than the big guy from the Fraser Valley, however, and that 5 in the column "games played" beside the big Abbotsford native stands out pretty brightly. Even with his paltry ice time by comparison to rest of the team, he is clearly the guy other teams are looking over their shoulders for first. Now, if he could get on the scoresheet.
So, the youth is looking pretty good overall. How about the team send the paying public home happy a bit more often ? Is this something to be troubled by, or are the Canucks just a victim of a small sample size ? Well, I am not going to get into the numbers so far this season. We all know they have 3 loser points at home so far this year, and that only two of a possible eight points out of a five game home stand is not good. Especially when the last team in that five game span is the unbeaten Habitants of Montreal coming up on Tuesday.
But the team just has to keep playing the same way they have been. Most of the goals against in the third period losses have been on breakdowns that are fixable. Yes, some of those are on the youth, and some are not, but the point is, they are errors that come from a lack of execution, not a lack of talent. You can see, watching the same youth play in the first 2/3rds of the game, that they are too much for some teams, and are not lost in the NHL.
The vets have tightened up and made mistakes that have cost points in the homestand as well. But consider that Vrbata only just started scoring with the Twins. Or that point leaders Alexandre Burrows ( 1 G , 5 A ) and Brandon Sutter ( 3 G , 3 A ) and Jannik Hansen ( 1 G , 3 A ) give the team a second line that can check, and is producing. Those are good things, right ?
Regardless of the result when the Blue, Rouge et Blanc invade The Roj' on Tuesday night, there have been signs and examples of positivity all over the place. They have been overshadowed by the results, of course, and this is certainly not to excuse the team those results. They are in the Winning Biz, and with a potentially troubling two game road trip that features Dallas Thursday, and the "off to a good start" Coyotes in Arizona on Friday, before they welcome the two Pennsylvania teams next Monday and Wednesday, this next stretch is going to be taxing.
A win at home against the unbeaten Habs would be a perfect tonic for the home ice ails, but that might be a tall order. Perhaps a sweep of Penn State next week after a couple road wins instead ? I know that means the hysteria on TEAM1040 after the Habs game would be pretty intense, but hey, we're used to that in Lotusland, right ?
I am willing to give them a bit more rope before hitting the panic button. Not a lot more, of course. But I think I would be more worried if they were not playing the right way, more often than not. The third period failures feel like things that can be fixed with coaching, attention to detail, and better execution. If they could just figure out how to bring their first and second period games into the third period.
That is the hardest thing for a younger team to do. The Canucks are not that, with plenty of veteran in the lineup. But they do have more youth than in the past in the lineup as well. When the desperation level for the other team ramps up, the Canucks have not met the test. Yet. With the help of the guys that have been there before, I have confidence that the vets here can help the youth, and they in turn can help the vets in crunch time. They have played well, but need to become closers.