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Three things the Canucks haven’t done well under Torts

Mar 12, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT

John Tortorella, Brad Richardson, Tom Sestito AP

Yeah, yeah, the Vancouver guy’s writing another blog post on Vancouver. Well, I’m sorry, it’s not my fault the Canucks have gone from one of the NHL’s best teams to one of the NHL’s worst, all in such a short time. Plus, I think I’ve watched enough of this team over the years to add some decent perspective.

So since John Tortorella’s such a hot topic, and general manager Mike Gillis doesn’t want to comment on his coaching situation, lest he “lend credibility to what’s out there with bloggers,” here are three things this blogger has noticed about the Canucks under Torts:

1. They can’t move the puck

Specifically, from their end of the ice and into the attacking zone. Which is important in hockey, and also something the Canucks used to do really well during their salad days with Alain Vigneault behind the bench.

Mike Babcock — a good coach, we can all agree, right? — is always talking about the importance of getting the puck moving out of the defensive end in order to transition quickly through the neutral zone and into the opponent’s end, WITH POSSESSION.

“The game’s real simple, the more time you spend in your zone, the less time you spend in their zone, the more you dump the puck because you got no speed on the rush,” Babcock said last season.

“If you’re efficient coming out and move the puck and you do it right once, you’re coming with speed, you don’t have to dump the puck, you probably get some sort of entry, or at least you give up possession and get it right back. Dumping the puck is awful when you’re just dumping it in and changing. You spend the whole game in your own zone wearing yourself out.”

I have a theory why the Canucks have had trouble with this under Tortorella, and it relates to the forwards collapsing toward their net in the defensive zone. While this strategy may lead to more blocked shots, there’s a catch. Once the puck turns over, the forwards aren’t in a great position to start the transition. And if you haven’t noticed, the Sedins aren’t exactly lightning fast. It takes them a while to get back up the ice. The last thing they need is more ice to cover.

2. They can’t capitalize on rebounds

Tortorella wants his players to shoot the puck. From anywhere and everywhere. Even if it’s just flinging the puck on net. And the Canucks have bought into that, for the most part. Going into tonight’s game, they’re averaging 30.7 shots, the 12th-most in the NHL.

Shooting the puck, regardless of whether there’s a reasonable chance of scoring on the shot, can be an effective strategy if you have the players to capitalize on rebounds. The Canucks have some players that fare OK in those situations, like Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins. And wouldn’t you know it, those two lead the team in goals, with 22 and 17, respectively.

The Sedins, on the other hand, are not those types. When they’re on their game, they play hockey like it’s basketball, using misdirection to find open teammates, often with the goalie being caught out of position. If you just throw the puck on net and tell the twins to go into traffic and get rebounds, it’s not going to work. You might as well tell a dead dog to go fetch.

Now, to be fair, Tortorella has said he doesn’t want to turn the Sedins into grinders. That may be so, and by the way, I don’t believe for a second that the twins are wholly victims of the system. They started declining before Torts came to Vancouver, and they’ve needed to be better for a while now. But that being said, after Vigneault was fired, if I had been in charge of picking a coach to get the Sedins going, Torts wouldn’t have been at the top of my list, or really anywhere near it.

3. They give up way too many odd-man rushes

A classic example of this came in the 6-1 loss to Dallas. Here’s Alex Edler with one of the worst pinches you’ll ever see:

This has been an issue all season. Dan Hamhuis, like Edler, has struggled with this, too. And these are not bad defensemen we’re talking about. Edler was good enough to play regular minutes in the Olympics for Sweden, which won silver in Sochi. Hamhuis may not have played big minutes for Canada, but he was good enough to be part of arguably the best blue line ever assembled in international hockey. So he’s got that going for him.

But this is what Tortorella wants his defense doing: making aggressive pinches to keep pucks alive in the attacking zone. In contrast, Vigneault would often talk about making “high-percentage plays.” Which is why it’s totally wrong to label Tortorella a super conservative coach and Vigneault some sort of run-and-gunner. It’s just not true. They’re simply safe and risky in different areas.

Anyway, I’m not sure how this all ends. My guess is Tortorella isn’t back next season and Gillis keeps his job, but I’m just a blogger speculating.

  1. ibieiniid - Mar 12, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    lol the beauty of sports reporting. not having to come up with groundbreaking endings and still getting the same point across.

    • bigtganks - Mar 12, 2014 at 5:22 PM

      I was gonna say

      1. PP
      2. 5-5
      3. PK (lately)

      Honorable mention: Shootout

      • ikillchicken - Mar 12, 2014 at 5:39 PM

        And I was gonna say

        1. Everything
        2. Everything else
        3. Everything again

        Honorable mention: Everything

  2. stepanup - Mar 12, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    How can you say MG can come back? Just a couple years ago this team was loaded, competing for Presidents Trophies and Stanley Cups. Now? Hodgson is a first line center in Buffalo, along with their former PPQB Ehrhoff, and Zack Kassian will never be an effective everyday player. Cory Schneider is going to be the man in New Jersey for a decade, and now the Canucks may not even have a franchise goalie when they had two!

    If there’s ever been a GM that should go for his decisions, it’s MG.

    • 11111111111a22 - Mar 12, 2014 at 2:52 PM

      Erhoff left for big time $$$ on an inflated offer from BUF; not MG’s fault.

      I just supported a member of VAN organization not named Kesler…weird.

      • stepanup - Mar 12, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        Correct about Ehrhoff. Suppose that was entirely fair. But on third though, because it’s Vancouver: MG LET EHRHOFF GO AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED.

    • wheatkngs - Mar 12, 2014 at 11:55 PM

      Milbury was worse (luongo, heatley, chara, parise, gaborik, bertuzzi, olli… etc) but I digress.

  3. 11111111111a22 - Mar 12, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    Sorry your team is in disarray (as a Blues fan, I can tell you that things can get MUCH worse). But this is just my personal opinion, I am thoroughly enjoying this nuclear meltdown and I couldn’t be happier about it happening in VAN. I just really dislike the way the Sedin sisters and Burrows play the game. The bad apples ruin it for the rest of the bunch.

    • hawksin5 - Mar 12, 2014 at 10:54 PM

      as a hawks fan, cannot agree more. burn baby burn

  4. patthehockeyfan - Mar 12, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    Ah, jeez! I’m supposed to be seeing the Canucks play the Caps Friday night.

    Maybe the concession stand will have something interesting.

  5. imleftcoast - Mar 12, 2014 at 3:06 PM

    Chip and chase with puck possession defensemen. I liked the aggressive pinching at first, but it’s a mess at this point.

    What’s interesting is that they have been good and terrible. Were they playing AV’s system in December when they were 10-3, and fully implement Tortorella’s system in January when they were 4-11? If so, then Tortorella obviously has to go.

    • hockeydon10 - Mar 12, 2014 at 3:34 PM

      The problem looks like the use of aggressive pinching rather than aggressively smart pinching. The team I follow (Detroit) used to be extremely good at this. (Other teams too, of course.)

      What I mean by smart pinching is knowing where your teammates are on the ice and making that decision to pinch in based on that. If a forward like Zetterberg or Datsyuk or Helm is heading for the blue line with speed, usually chasing an opponent, is the time for the D to pinch in, knowing that they will switch positions and cover in case of a break out. In that clip above Edler has nobody heading toward the blue line to cover for him. That’s what makes a bad aggressive pinch rather than a good aggressive pinch.

  6. salmon90 - Mar 12, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Completely agree with the deterioration of the passing game. I remember when AV first came on the job how much this area improved. Whether it was him or the players at the time it was definitely noticeable that the Canucks moved the puck around so much better. Watching them now it’s amazing how many times they bobble the puck or turn in over in ways they never used to. Again, whether that’s personnel or coaching I don’t know but its pretty glaring if you’ve watched these guys for a while.

    • stepanup - Mar 12, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      Rangers couldn’t pass in the past few years either. Always just assumed it was the ice.

      • 950003cups - Mar 12, 2014 at 8:04 PM

        I believe that’s what Tortorella was telling everyone. That the ice in MSG was terrible.

    • imleftcoast - Mar 12, 2014 at 4:17 PM

      I wonder if it is the lack of practice. Considering how much of the game they can’t do right, not practicing seems wrong. It’s also due to two lines getting a ton of ice time, and the third and fourth liners looking rusty and cautious.

  7. jaysfan64 - Mar 12, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    You forgot the fourth…win hockey games…

    • ibieiniid - Mar 12, 2014 at 3:58 PM

      when i opened this at first, i honestly thought that was gonna be one of them.

  8. joey4id - Mar 12, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    Torts was the wrong coach for this type of team. His type of coaching is a better fit for blue collar type players. Heavy on the heart, a little less on the talent. I believe a coach like Roy would have had success in Vancouver, and Torts would have flopped in Colorado.

  9. bwayblueshirt - Mar 12, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    As I’ve noted before, the ‘Nucks are not built for Torts, and ownership tried to meet in the middle between adjusting the roster and asking Torts to adjust his style. When he was in NY (my team), if you were a d-man and you pinched, you rode the pine for the rest of the period (or game, if the opposition scored). Now he’s trying to meet the players half-way to try and keep a job he should never have taken in the first place, and surprise! It’s not working well. Either you buy into the system or you go with someone else. Middle ground will make you middle-of-the-road.

  10. skr213 - Mar 12, 2014 at 6:18 PM

    Here’s my list of what they haven’t done well this season …

    1. Put pucks in other team’s net.
    2. Keep pucks out of their own net.
    3. Not become laughing stock of NHL.

  11. sumkat - Mar 12, 2014 at 8:24 PM

    1, act like a team
    2, act like professionals
    3, play hockey

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