Canucks’ third line firing blanks, adds to team’s woes
A few timely goals from Kassian, Lapierre and Booth may have helped win some games
COLUMBUS, Ohio – There are many reasons for the Vancouver Canucks’ inability to win hockey games since mid-February.
The power play is one. It’s 0-for-16 in the last seven games and sat 20th in the NHL based on Friday’s numbers. It’s been beaten to death.
Overtime and shootout failures are another. The Canucks have lost six of nine games beyond regulation and four straight when it’s been tied after 60 minutes.
And here’s one more: Canuck third-line players haven’t scored since the month of January. Zack Kassian has five goals but none since Jan. 30. Max Lapierre has one goal. It came on Jan. 30. David Booth has no goals in eight games since returning from a training camp groin injury.
You can throw rookie Jordan Schroeder in there, too. He sometimes skates with Booth and Kassian on the third line in offensive-zone situations. He has two goals but none since Feb. 9.
The odd goal from a third-liner might have made a difference. The Canucks are 3-4-4 in their last 11 and only the 8-3 debacle in Detroit was a blowout defeat. The other seven losses were all one-goal games with a couple of empty-netters among them. Three of the losses were in shootouts. Another was Thursday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Columbus. Vancouver’s next game is Sunday in Minnesota against the Wild.
Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness, who handled media duties Friday following an optional practice, attempted to put his best spin on the absence of third-line offence.
“You know what?” Bowness said. “Kassian and Booth are skating the best we’ve seen them skate. So they’re generating offence and they’re generating chances. We’d be a lot more concerned if we didn’t see the speed and we didn’t see the chances that were there. They’re cutting to the net, the puck is there and they just can’t get a handle on it right now.
“So we’d be a lot more concerned if we weren’t seeing those positive signs. If they stay with it, eventually the puck is going to go in.”
Booth is the most accomplished offensive player of the bunch while Kassian and Schroeder are not proven scorers at the NHL level despite their first-round draft status. Lapierre, of course, is strictly a defensive player so offence from him is a bonus.
The Canucks’ lack of depth at centre, especially in the absence of Ryan Kesler, is forcing the coaching staff to deploy Lapierre in a role for which he might not be suited. He has never been a playmaker and his career high in assists is 13.
So it’s really up to Booth to get it going for the bottom-six forward group, followed by Kassian and then maybe Schroeder.
“It’s very frustrating, especially when the game are overtime losses or a loss by one goal,” Booth said. “It’s something I have to do better. I can’t make excuses. It’s not good enough. I really have to bear down and get to the front of the net. I think dirty goals are scored there and that’s how I get the majority of my goals.
“I feel like I have that extra step I maybe didn’t have the first few games. I know that’s my strength. It’s just a matter of beating the guy and controlling the puck. I also have to follow up on those second chances.”
While Booth is admittedly frustrated, Kassian is trying not to be.
“This is the NHL and it’s not easy to score goals,” he said Friday. “The chances are coming so you can’t get frustrated. You can’t let it get to you or it’s just going to get worse. You definitely say, when your team loses a close game, that I wish I could have buried one.
“As a line, we have to throw everything at the net, crash the net, make sure we’re stopping at the net and good things are going to happen. We were watching (video) clips this morning and there were a bunch of pucks right in that area and we were in the wrong spot at the wrong time type of thing. But it’s going to happen. Eventually they are going to go in.”
Schroeder is more upset than frustrated at his inability to produce. He is certainly being miscast as a fourth-liner, where he’s mostly been skating at even strength, but the coaches are giving him time on the first-unit power play. He has gone seven games without a point and has just one assist in his last 12 outings.
“I do get upset with myself,” said the diminutive Minnesota native. “I have high expectations for myself, as does everybody on this team. You want to be able to contribute every single game if you can. Who doesn’t?”
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