Monday, March 20, 2006

Vancouver's sinking ship

Fox Sports calls what happened in Vancouver last night a 'laugher,' but that certainly wasn't the case for everyone involved in the Canucks' 7-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

On the wrong side of the playoff race for the first time this season, no one's laughing on the Canucks.

Viewers of the pay-per-view broadcast out of Vancouver got a mini-tour around the dressing room following the game, and the scene was telling. I've been through NHL rooms after playoff losses that weren't anywhere near that gloomy. Matt Cooke was downright disconsolate.

"I don't have an answer for that," Cooke said in response to a reporter asking why the team wasn't yet playing like a desperate team. The glower that followed was enough to send the media pack off in search of a more genial quote.

The big debate in Vancouver circles lately is over what's happening in that dressing room — what Tom Benjamin called 'Clique Week' a few days back. Yet, as Off Wing Opinion said last night, views on why this team is fraying at the seams aren't exactly uniform.

If we needed anymore evidence as to how poorly the Canucks are playing lately, we got it in spades last night, as the Canucks barely deserved to be skating on the same ice as the NHL's top team. I've been saying for months now that, while Vancouver's record was solid, their level of play really hasn't been.

This Vancouver team has never been great at fighting through adversity — just recall the Lidstrom long-bomb goal against Dan Cloutier or the team's collapse versus the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the 2003 playoffs — and hasn't had the kind of heart-and-soul leadership that could pull them out of the doldrums since way back in 1994. As much as I admire the elements captain Markus Naslund brings to this team, fire in the belly definitely isn't one of them.

"I'm confident we'll make it," Naslund said last night. "It doesn't look like it right now, but we'll find a way."

I don't think so. Not with Henrik Sedin leading the team in scoring. Not with Ed Jovanovski and Sami Salo still missing from the blueline. And, not with Todd Bertuzzi sulking at the end of the bench — extra leg room or not.

The Canucks' lone wins in the nine games so far in March came against Columbus and Chicago, and from the look of things now, my guess is that's who they'll be battling 30 days from now when the playoffs start. For lottery balls.


At 10:20 a.m., March 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess we'll find out this week what the Canucks are really made of. They basically have a best of three with Edmonton, with a playoff berth on the line. The Canucks need to take at least two of them, both in regulation, to have a shot. If they lose two of the three, they will need to go 7-2-1 the rest of the way, not terribly realistic. (It goes without saying that if they lose all three, they are done like dinner.)

For as much as everyone is cracking on the Canucks right now, and with some reason, it is worth noting how brutally the injury bug has bitten them. The Canucks entered the season with three defencemen (Salo, Jovanovski, and Ohlund) who were going to carry the load for them, and right now two of them are done for at least the remainder of the regular season. If you take two top defencemen away from any team in this league, and sub in a couple of grinders and AHL guys, they are going to take a hit.

Also keep in mind that Cloutier going down for the season hurt a bit. Auld has stepped in admirably, but Cloutier was usually good for stealing at least a couple of games a year in the regular season.

Everyone used to give Andy Murray kudos for putting a competitive team on the ice despite the injury woes he had in LA in past seasons. If Crawford can drag this team into the post-season, he should get at least some grudging respect.


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