First of all, I will admit that I blew off some steam yesterday by taking issue with the shoddy officiating. I am not perfect, and neither are NHL referees. Like Jose Canseco before me, I had a Twitter meltdown yesterday, and I’m not proud of it. My comments were made mostly in jest, but there seems to be a growing number of Canuck fans that actually believe Gary Bettman and his Board of Shadowy Figures are out to get them. Media-types are getting flooded with tweets on the subject, most of them of the embarrassing variety. Can we be reality for a second here? Take the tinfoil hat off for a moment and be honest with ourselves about what’s happened in this series so far.
I’ll be the first to admit, the optics are not good. Mike Murphy, VP of Hockey Operations for the NHL and the official ‘overseer’ for this series, is a former player, coach and assistant GM for the L.A. Kings. In an interview with Kings.com earlier this season he offered this unnerving little nugget: “I think it would be so neat to see the Kings succeed and win a Stanley Cup because it would do just a tremendous amount for the Southern California market and the Kings franchise.” Ah yes, so neat. Murphy also worked as an assistant coach for the Canucks at one point, which evens the scales somewhat, but still, it doesn’t look good.
But when has this league ever cared about optics? Right now there’s a major upset in the making in the desert, as Phoenix is currently up two games to one on the Western Conference powerhouse Red Wings. This is a team that the NHL literally owns and has an invested interest in seeing succeed. It would be so easy to pull the conspiracy card in that series, and indeed, many are. But for their part, the Coyotes appear to be winning games on merit. For the most part, so are the Kings.
The Canucks currently have issues that go far beyond a few botched calls here and there, egregious as they may be. Daniel’s waved-off goal doesn’t change the fact that Roberto Luongo was on the bench when he “scored” it. It doesn’t change the fact that the team’s penalty-kill is clicking at what must be one of the worst rates in playoff history. You can’t even point to missing Ryan Johnson (who really isn’t that good anyway), because all three of the Kings powerplay goals last night were scored while the first unit was still on the ice. Kesler and Burrows, our dazzling short-handed scoring threats, our Selke candidates, are not doing what they should. After two strong games at home, Roberto looked more like Reboundo last night, and the defense are not doing their usual job of hopping on those loose pucks and clearing them out. Michal Handzus is being allowed to sit right on the door-step unchecked and bang them home into an open cage.
The intensity needed to win in the post-season is conspicuously absent far too often. The team comes on in waves and goes long stretches where they just look disinterested. You can get away with pouring it on in the third period in the regular season, but this is the playoffs. Last night’s second period was an unacceptable effort by just about every measure, not the least of which that for most of the frame the team looked like they were coasting through a mid-season snoozer. It was a similar story in Game 2, where they took their foot off the gas after establishing an early lead. If you aren’t going to play with killer instinct, you just aren’t going to win, it’s as simple as that.
The Sedins are playing too cute, and it’s costing them. Clearly Terry Murray (who I wash dishappointed to learn doesh NOT shound jushh like hish brudder) has been alerted to the fact that the twins use the drop-pass when they run into coverage, because every single drop-pass is being jumped on and cleared. They’re trying to force their magic by passing right into sticks, skates and opposition players. Kyle Wellwood, for all the glorious chances he created (and subsequently fanned on) last night, is just as guilty of this. I lost count of how many times I shouted at the television last night in disbelief that the team was STILL trying to pass into traffic. Pavol Demitra has been abysmal and needs to be removed from the first unit powerplay immediately.
Now, the officiating isn’t doing the Canucks any favours. But this isn’t a team that should need them. We’re using spotty penalties as a railing point to distract from the fact that the team can’t kill off a damned penalty to save their lives, and that needs to stop. There is no conspiracy. There have been bad calls, but that’s hockey. At every level and against every team, it happens.
It hasn’t all been bad news. Ryan Kesler, who seems just the type of player to step it up in the playoffs, is finally doing just that. Michael Grabner, when he actually sees ice-time, has looked fantastic and was one of Vancouver’s best players last night. An encouraging sign for the future, but a troubling sign for right now — where are the real top players? When will Alex Burrows make his mark on this series?
It’s not over. And a wake-up call like this is exactly what this team needs right now. I wonder if they themselves underestimated the Kings. I know I did. If you’re going to need a wake-up call in the playoffs, it’s best to get that adversity out of the way now. But this isn’t a team that should need that. We shouldn’t be relying on breaks from the refs, or Michael Grabner to be one of our more dangerous scoring threats.
There are problems with this team that are far more serious than a blown goal call, a missed stick through the helmet, or a curious too-many-men penalty. The officiating anger has boiled up over the course of three games, sure, but lets not let it distract us from the real issues here. This was supposed to be a team that could make their own luck. A team with the #2 offense in the league. I’m still waiting for that team to show up in this series.