What's next for Canucks after disastrous start?

The Vancouver Canucks opened their 2022-23 NHL season with four consecutive losses. They’re not the only NHL team yet to win, but they are the only team to blow multi-goal leads in every game. Those losses included leads of 3-0 against Edmonton, 2-0 versus Philadelphia, 4-2 against Washington and 2-0 against Columbus.

It’s a stretch that has caused frustration among fans, and has brought early calls for change. The Canucks are in obvious trouble, and there are reasons.

What has gone wrong in Vancouver?

If you listened to Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau following the team’s 6-4 loss to Washington, he called his team “mentally weak,” “afraid to win,” and described them as “waiting for something bad to happen.” It’s not an assessment that exudes confidence from a bench boss who is rapidly joining the conversation of which NHL coach will be fired first this season. It also fails to address the reality — there is more broken in Vancouver than the mental approach to the game.

One major woe to start the season is Vancouver’s penalty kill. It’s a reoccurring issue as the team finished 31st overall in PK% last season, sitting at 73.9 percent effectiveness. This year, the Canucks are off to an even worse pace, killing at only a 57.1 percent rate.

While Vancouver’s penalty kill looks like a culprit, the ice appears sloped in their direction at even strength as well, specifically when players who should be leading the play are on the ice. Specifically, the trio of J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Tanner Pearson have been grim in terms of puck possession. Their Corsi For percentages are 46.1, 46.8, and 43.9, respectively, meaning they’re playing without the puck more than with it. That’s not good news for three of Vancouver’s top six scoring forwards from last season.

When you look at Fenwick it becomes clearer: the Canucks have been better with Miller, Boeser, and Pearson on the bench than on the ice. When you couple possession stats with the fact these players are getting a disproportionate number of offensive zone starts compared to defensive zone starts, it’s a grave concern.

In net, both Thatcher Demko and Spencer Martin have opened with sub-.900 save percentages, a recipe for disaster when the team in front of them is spending much of the game without the puck.

The reeling Canucks are still looking for their first win. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The reeling Canucks are still looking for their first win. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What has gone right in Vancouver?

Very little. That said, newcomer Andrei Kuzmenko has been strong in every advanced statistical category, as has Elias Pettersson, who is showing hints of superstardom. Pettersson’s six points through four games leads the Canucks.

There was also reason for hope in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets. The hope came not from the fact the Canucks salvaged a point, but that Bo Horvat, the team’s captain and one of the most heavily criticized players on the roster to start the year, finally put together a strong performance.

After their third loss of the season, the Canucks held a players-only meeting, and Horvat took it upon himself to change.

“That’s three games in a row now that we’ve had leads and outplayed teams and it’s just unacceptable by us, it’s unacceptable by myself and my leadership. I hold myself accountable, I’ve got to be better,” Horvat said.

Horvat scored a shorthanded goal to open Tuesday's game, and added a third-period marker to give Vancouver a 3-2 lead. He was better but it was not enough.

What is next in Vancouver?

If the Canucks continue to lose, it’s almost a certainty Boudreau will be fired. Boudreau took over the Canucks' bench midway through last season, and is new general manager Patrik Allvin’s first head coach. Allvin will certainly look to change his team’s direction by any means possible, and Boudreau is the likely fall guy.

It’s also interesting the Canucks chose to hold a “players only” meeting following their third loss. While it’s not an uncommon practice, and it could be that the team is taking responsibility for its poor play, it could be they’ve lost trust in their coaching staff.

Vancouver may also look at making on-ice personnel changes. Depth forwards Nils Aman and Dakota Joshua have been horrid when looking at advanced possession stats, as has recently acquired defender Riley Stillman. There is hope the return of Ilya Mikheyev and Tyler Myers will help, but at this moment, it’s only hope. Linus Karlsson may be the only internal option in the AHL who could provide a boost.

Vancouver is also pinned against the salary cap with less than a million to play with, and that is thanks to LTIR.

There are no certainties in Vancouver, other than the displeasure felt by fans, staff, and players alike. If the Canucks continue to lose, however, that certainty will involve imminent change.

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