Jonas Hiller turns aside Bo Horvat (Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Vancouver went from one of the most of the most potent regular season offenses to mustering just eight goals in four post-season games. If they can’t start finding holes in Calgary goaltender Jonas Hiller, the struggling offense will be the reason for the Canucks’ early exit.
Canucks coach Willie Desjardins made the choice to go with goaltender Eddie Lack, not big free agent acquisition Ryan Miller, to start the first-round series against Calgary. And after allowing three goals on seven shots, Lack is going to take some heat, but it’s not he who let the Canucks down. Rather, it’s the stagnant offense hurting Vancouver in round one and it was apparent in the Canucks’ 3-1 loss Tuesday.
Through four games against Calgary, Vancouver has only mustered one big outing – a four-goal output in the second game of the series – but hasn’t shown much in the other the three contests. In Game 1, it was Bo Horvat scoring his first career post-season goal and nothing else. Game 3 was much the same, as the Canucks got on the board early thanks to Shawn Matthias but didn’t pot another until they were behind by three goals. And now, in Game 4, the Canucks offense again stumbled, registering a goal just before the midpoint of the first period and nothing else.
The Canucks are now among the lowest scoring teams in the NHL this post-season, averaging two goals per game, and if they can’t rectify their offensive woes soon, they’re going to be the victims of an upset.
It’s a bit shocking, too, because most would have expected this series to be one of the highest scoring of the first round and not the one-sided affair it has become. During the regular season, Vancouver was the eighth highest scoring team in the league in goals per game, averaging 2.88 tallies. Calgary was seventh with 2.89. When it came to goals against per game, both teams were again similar, Vancouver allowing 2.68 and Calgary 2.60.
The slump for the Canucks couldn’t have been seen coming, though. Matter of fact, it actually looked as though the offense was heading in the right direction. Pre-all-star break, Vancouver averaged 2.2 goals for per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. Post-break, their offense improved, potting 2.4 goals per 60 minutes. Though it may seem insignificant, the bump was enough to make the Canucks one of the top-10 5-on-5 scoring teams following the break.
Over the course of a season, a team can expect things like shooting percentage and combined shooting and save percentage to level off. Trouble is for the Canucks, there aren’t another 78 games coming. At most, there will be three more opportunities for them to find some spark on the offensive side of the puck.
What’s maybe most shocking is it’s not the Sedins, not Radim Vrabta, and not even Nick Bonino leading the charge for Vancouver. Instead, 20-year-old Horvat, he of 72 career NHL games, is pacing the Canucks with a goal and three points. Combined, the Sedin twins have four points. Vrabta has fired 13 pucks on goal but only found the back of the net once. As for Bonino, he has two helpers, but nothing else.
Maybe what Vancouver has to hope changes before this series comes to an unceremonious end for the Canucks is the play of Calgary netminder Jonas Hiller. At the time of Calgary’s Game 4 win, Hiller’s .938 save percentage was fourth best in the league and he had made more stops than all goalies, save the Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak, with 106. Though there’s little the Canucks can do to control Hiller’s play, more traffic to the net, more pucks on goal in hopes of a sloppy rebound and a little bit of puck luck could be enough to change Vancouver’s fortunes.
At the very least, if the Canucks were heading back to Vancouver in a tied series, they would have the chance to hit their offensive stride. Unfortunately, down 3-1 in the series, the scoring touch won’t be able to come organically and Vancouver will have to force matters.
If the offense continues to sputter, though, the Canucks won’t be playing past the weekend. And if, or when, things come to an end in this series, it shouldn’t be Desjardins’ choice of goaltenders that’s questioned, but rather what happened to the Vancouver offense.