Through the first three games of the season, the Vancouver Canucks major problem was how they started games.
They were sluggish, unorganized, and had a penchant for taking early penalties – highlighted by four early minors against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night.
On the plus side, the defending Western Conference champs seemed to solve that problem Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings. Trouble was, they simply delayed their poor start about 20 minutes, and had a terrible middle frame instead.
After playing to a scoreless draw in the first period – a period where they actually got to play on the power-play as opposed to kill penalties – they were absolutely outclassed by the Wings in the second. Detroit outshot the Canucks 24-8 in the period, and scored twice – first Justin Abdelkader got the Wings on the board, and Valtteri Filppula made it 2-0 soon after, capitalizing on a Marco Sturm turnover.
To their credit, the Canucks never seemed as though they were completely out of it – they had plenty of chances to get on the board, but were thwarted by either goal posts, crossbars or Wings netminder Jimmy Howard.
But the game did bring one point into stark relief: the Canucks really miss Ryan Kesler.
Without Kesler, they’re simply a one-line team – no offence to Cody Hodgson, who had another strong game – and when that one line (Sedin-Sedin-Burrows) isn’t going, well… you get shut out. Kesler has the ability to make his linemates better, and if he’s able to help get Sturm, Mikael Samuelsson or Jannik Hansen (who’s been surprisingly invisible through four games) going, then the Canucks forward depth will be vastly improved.
Because right now without him in the lineup, the only threats to score are Hodgson – who’s still, for all intents and purposes, a rookie – and Chris Higgins, who has two goals in four games, but is more of a third-line player than a top-six sniper.