BY THOMAS DRANCE
To say that Vancouver’s defensive play was “permissive” against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night is a massive under-statement. It was, quite easily, the worst defensive performance the club has put in during a single game over the past three years, and of course the mood in Canuckistan is grim as a direct result. But before you go making Jason Garrison – and his positive possession play against tough opposition – a healthy scratch in favour of Cam Barker, you should probably take a deep breath.
There’s a few factors at play here and an awful lot of less-panicky buttons that Alain Vigneault and Rick Bowness (who runs the defense), can push to fix Vancouver’s issues. That is if the issues even exist, and I’m not completely sure that they do.
For example, while the Canucks were a swiss cheese defensive unit last night, it’s not as if they’ve been building to this crescendo of sloppy coverage over the past few games. In fact, Vancouver’s defensive play during their recent homestand was pretty solid and they held two likely playoff teams in the Stars (Vancouver Canucks at Dallas Stars (+120, 5.5)) and the St. Louis Blues to fewer than ten scoring chances at even-strength in the games leading up to Tuesday night. It’s also not necessarily that the Canucks matchup poorly with the Blackhawks in particular – though arguably they do – as they were able to hold Chicago’s team to 12 even-strength chances in the previous meeting between the two clubs in January.
To me, it appears like last night’s game was a one off fire drill outing for Vancouver defensively, and I really don’t think it necessarily revealed any dire structural issues. Vancouver’s defenders were beaten one-on-one pretty consistently by a variety of Chicago forwards, but sometimes even a stellar blue-line group is going to have an awful game like Vancouver’s did. The key is not to over-react to the result of any one play.
For example, Jason Garrison looked completely lost on Marian Hossa’s second goal on Tuesday night. He basically stayed in no-man’s land, was late on any semblance of panic coverage and allowed Marian Hossa to walk untouched into the slot. That’s ugly, of course. But while he continues to underwhelm Canucks fans – partly because of a lack of offensive production, and the fact that he looked like a square hole in a round peg on Vancouver’s first power-play unit early in the season – the fact remains that Jason Garrison has been a huge upgrade over Sami Salo at even-strength so far this season. He’s playing the second toughest minutes on the team, and while he’s been fortunate with the bounces (his 106 PDO will regress significantly over the balance of the season) the Canucks have managed to control play and limit the goals against (generally speaking) with him on the ice.
Look, I’ve been consistent in saying that Vancouver’s blue-line probably isn’t quite the “strength” that other analysts though it was. But they’re certainly nowhere near as woeful as a group as they looked Tuesday night.