March 22, 2023
Canuck's injuries make it difficult to break her losing streak

Canuck’s injuries make it difficult to break her losing streak

Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser are both day to day.

The start of the 2022-23 season hasn’t quite gone to plan for the Vancouver Canucks.

Engaged in a seven-game losing streak, the Canucks desperately need to find a way to win a game. There are many reasons why the team is fighting for a win. There were defensive meltdowns, struggles to get the puck out clean, and Thatcher Demko didn’t steal games like he’s shown in the past.

Not that it’s Demko’s fault per se. He was repeatedly met with gunfire that seemed impossible to stop. It’s just that Canucks fans have also seen him make seemingly impossible saves. Without Demko making those saves, the Canucks were exposed.

There’s another factor that has made it difficult for the Canucks to buy a win and break out of their preseason slump: injuries.

A multitude of injuries on defense

Injuries aren’t an excuse — every NHL team deals with them — but they certainly don’t make things any easier for a team that was already in a difficult position. The Canucks have the forward depth to handle injuries fairly well, but their defensive depth is lacking.

Earlier in the season, the Canucks were missing two defensemen — Tyler Myers with a lower-body injury and Travis Dermott with a concussion — as well as newly won Top 9 winger Ilya Mikheyev with a lower-body injury. Even when Myers and Mikheyev returned to the lineup after three games, other players ended up on the injury list.

Tucker Poolman has only played three games this season and is now on long-term injured reserve with no time frame for a return. His 2021/22 season was ended by migraines, although there’s no word on what’s currently keeping him from the lineup.

Riley Stillman has not played since his headshot against the Minnesota Wild and is considered fit for everyday use.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any injured strikers. Brock Boeser, after recovering from hand surgery in time for the season opener, missed Monday’s game with an undisclosed injury and is in it day in and day out. Curtis Lazar was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday and is expected to miss three to four weeks after trying to play through an undisclosed injury.

The injury that has hurt the most in the last few games is Quinn Hughes, a lower body injury that head coach Bruce Boudreau has been calling week after week, but general manager Patrik Allvin has been calling daily on Wednesday and said he expects to recover next week returns.

Hughes is the only Canucks defenseman who can consistently dodge the forecheck and break the puck out of the defensive zone. Without Hughes, the defense struggled in that area against the Buffalo Sabers and Carolina Hurricanes.

With Hughes, Dermott, Poolman and Stillman all off the lineup, the Canucks’ depth of defense will be severely tested. The Canucks have already decked ten defensemen this season — they’ve had seasons where they’ve never decked that many, such as the 2019-20 season when they only fielded eight defensemen all year and one of them, Ashton Sautner, only for him was a game.

“It’s our veterans.”

In place of the injured players, Kyle Burroughs had to play a bigger role and was mostly up to the task. AHL drafts Guillaume Brisebois and Noah Juulsen have stepped into the roles of the third pairing with varying degrees of success — Juulsen seems overwhelmed at the NHL level, but Brisebois played an easy game against the Hurricanes, avoiding errors and preventing dangerous chances.

The defensemen the Canucks really need more of are veterans Oliver Ekman-Larson and Tyler Myers, and rookie Jack Rathbone.

Ekman-Larsson and Myers were at least league average as a shutdown pair last season – regularly facing stiff competition and keeping the puck out of the net with the help of Demko at their back.

They’re not doing so well this season. Myers’ injury earlier in the year doesn’t help, but it seems like Ekman-Larsson is playing even more conservatively than usual, keeping a wide margin to avoid being hit wide with his diminished ability to skate but as a result opposing strikers are allowing the zone of the Canucks far too easy to enter.

Ekman-Larsson’s puck management wasn’t just too permissive, it wasn’t good enough. He had two bad giveaways in the home game that resulted in goals being conceded in the first third. Breakout passes were never really Ekman-Larsson’s forte – he’s always been better at running out the puck, but his declining mobility has limited his ability to do so.

Boudreau put the burden on the veterans after Saturday’s game.

“A lot of the defenders that were in there did their jobs [butts off], the young people anyway, who are doing what they can to stem the tide,” Boudreau said. “But it’s our veterans, they’re the ones — the leaders have to take that and say, ‘Okay, enough is enough.’ And if they don’t, then it’s a long year.”

Rathbone looks good, but the results weren’t

That said, what the Canucks really need is Jack Rathbone to improve their game.

Rathbone couldn’t crack the lineup in the first five games of the season, even as the Canucks rattled off repeated losses. Rathbone needed injuries to finally get into the lineup for the home opener.

Now that he’s on the lineup, Rathbone looks like an NHL-caliber attacking defender. He has the puck-handling and skating ability to dodge the forecheck, he can pass the puck crisply, and he appears to be the only defender in the Canucks aside from Hughes who actually acts as a catalyst in the offensive zone and is aggressive from the point with fast-moving Give attack-and-go to open low overtaking lanes.

The problem is that the results for Rathbone haven’t followed suit yet. When he was 5-on-5 on the ice, shot attempts for the opponent were 36-to-22 and the Canucks were outplayed 3-to-0. His Natural Stat Trick expected goal percentage is a staggering 17.74%, the lowest among Canucks defenders, and his high threat odds were 12-to-0 against.

It’s not entirely up to Rathbone. He was occasionally hung by his teammates for trying – one of Saturday’s Ekman-Larsson giveaways resulted in one of those goals against Rathbone on the ice – but he had a few turnovers himself.

But with Hughes out for now, Rathbone could be the Canucks’ only hope of getting an offensive hit from the back end. At some point he has to start tilting the ice the other way. As good as he looked, the Canucks used to drown whenever Rathbone was on the ice.

New medical and educational staff

The Canucks have an almost entirely new medical staff this season to deal with those early injuries. After the 2021-22 season, the Canucks let go of senior athletic therapist Jon Sanderson and senior strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi, both longtime employees. Two assistant sports therapists, Dave Zarn and Nick Addey-Jibb, were also fired, along with assistant strength and conditioning coach Ken Hetzel.

Josh Termeer, formerly of the Calgary Stampeders, is the Canucks’ new chief sports therapist this season. Mark Cesari, a former Toronto Maple Leafs strength and conditioning coach, replaced Takahashi.

The Canucks also hired two chiropractors. dr Harry Sese, a chiropractor and massage therapist, was best known for his work with golfers before joining the Canucks as a health and performance consultant — he oversees the strength and conditioning department.

dr Erik Yuill was a team chiropractor for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Vancouver Warriors before joining the Canucks.

#Canucks #injuries #difficult #break #losing #streak

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *