Inconsistency stems from defence

By Nick Greenizan

The Vancouver Canucks’ troubles to start the season – the defending Western champs are currently 11th in the conference – are well documented and a result of a myriad of issues. At first, it was Luongo taking the brunt of the criticism (some of it warranted, some not) and then it was questions about secondary scoring, but critics of that were feted by the trade for David Booth.

And then people wondered about where the offence from the blue line would come from now that former 50-point man Christian Ehrhoff was in Buffalo. Well, Alex Edler has picked up the offensive slack just fine so far, but that still hasn’t culled cries that the team needs a real “puck moving” defenceman on the back end.

And while that’s all well and good – I mean, Alex Sulzer is currently in the top 6, so that tells you all you need to know – but the biggest problem for the Canucks’ defence has been its defensive play. To put it mildly, it’s been awful. Horrible. Terrible, turrible – just bad.

They look slow, weak and most shockingly, disorganized in their own zone, and it’s the latter point that’s been so surprising because the Canucks have typically been adept and moving the puck out of their zone without looking like elementary school kids at recess – bodies running around in every direction with no rhyme nor reason to the madness.

Kevin Bieksa, in the first year of his new five-year contract – which he earned after a great regular season and an at-time-dominant playoff run – and has been struggling, to put it politely. He has at times been split up from former d-partner Dan Hamhuis, which hasn’t helped his game, and both Bieksa and Keith Ballard are among the league’s worst in plus/minus.

So, what’s to be done? Well, just as one expects Alex Edler to regress to the mean – he’s not going to be an 80-point defenceman – one should also expect players like Bieksa, Hamhuis and yes, even the much-maligned Ballard, to get their games going at some point. Overly optimistic? Perhaps. But what other option is there except to hope.

Another option, of course, is to bring in another defenceman via trade. But while most are clamouring for an offensive-minded option, I’d suggest a shutdown defenceman, preferably one who plays on the right side, as a better option, and a marked improvement over the trio of Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome and Alex Sulzer who are currently ticketed to rotate in and out of that 5th/6th defenceman spot. This is supposed to be a Stanley Cup calibre team, and they have to do better than that if they hope to get back to the finals.

Today’s game against Chicago will be a good test for the blue line. If they show signs of improvement, then great. But if they get exposed against a talented, fast Blackhawks squad, then changes need to be made sooner rather than later.

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