Iain MacIntyre: Would it hurt to change faces on unprolific Canucks power play?

 

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks’ Shawn Matthias, left, skates past Los Angeles Kings’ Brayden McNabb during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Los Angeles.
 
 

Vancouver Canucks’ Shawn Matthias, left, skates past Los Angeles Kings’ Brayden McNabb during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Los Angeles.

Photograph by: Jae C. Hong, AP

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As a member of Muirfield Village outside Columbus, Derek Dorsett knows what it is like to grind through 18 holes on an extremely difficult golf course.

The mental challenge is often more exhausting than the physical one. The golfer must concentrate intensely on each shot. With trouble everywhere on an unforgiving course, there is no margin for error, no allowance for making a thoughtless swing. But it is difficult to maintain that intense focus for 18 holes. The mind tires and wanders, and when it does the golfer makes double-bogey.

The Vancouver Canucks allow their minds to wander. A lot.

The National Hockey League team has lost only seven times over the last six weeks. But six of those losses, including Thursday’s 4-1 defeat by the Colorado Avalanche in a home game in which the Canucks trailed 29-11 in shots at one point, have been against teams that won’t be going to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Of course, neither will the Canucks if they have many more performances like that one.

They sharpen their focus and game for teams such as the Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. But put them on the tee against the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Canucks start thinking about their scorecard, whether it’s really necessary to wear a white belt with white shoes, the cart girl, and chances the valet will scratch the Range Rover.

They lose focus.

“There’s going to be ups and downs throughout a season,” Dorsett, the Canucks’ winger, said Thursday. “We’ve got to find a way to string together four or five (good) games. There are no easy games this time of year, and if you let up for one or two periods, you might make a double- or triple-bogey.”

INCOMPREHENSIBLE: Seventy-four games into the regular season, the Canucks’ second power-play unit has scored exactly three goals. And while it’s heartening that the unit is due any game now to produce its goal for the fourth quarter, having scored once in each of the season’s first three, it’s unfathomable how forwards Nick Bonino and Chris Higgins continue to get a share of virtually every power play despite their utter inability through 74 games to generate goals on the second unit.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars, Bonino has logged 125 minutes, 39 seconds of total power-play time this season and produced two points. His only goal, on Jan. 27, came while he was on the ice with first-unit gurus Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Higgins also has one goal and one assist in 118:41 of power-play time.

Bonino and Higgins are solid NHL players, but clearly the power play is not working for them. Which begs the question: Why hasn’t coach Willie Desjardins given their PP time to other forwards?

Powerful winger Shawn Matthias, for example, is tied for second on the Canucks with 17 goals but has been bestowed only 6:59 of power-play time all season. (He is tied with Bonino and Higgins with one power-play goal.) Rookie Bo Horvat, whose 15 points since the all-star break trail only the Sedins and Radim Vrbata, has only 16:40 of PP time. Horvat and Matthias rank 11th and 12th among Canuck forwards in PP time.

Winger Jannik Hansen, who had 10 points in 10 games during a February hot streak, has been on the power play for just 35:22 — less than one-third the time awarded Bonino and Higgins.

Would the second unit be better with Matthias, Horvat and Hansen (or others)? We know it couldn’t be any worse.

TAN MAN TURNS GREEN: Debate over the five-year, $22.25-million US extension given low-scoring Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev this week misses the point. Tanev isn’t being rewarded for generating goals, he’s being paid to prevent them.

The Canucks’ analytics department is the team’s Area 51 — a mysterious division of which little is publicly known and nothing is heard. According to its data, Tanev is not only the highest-rated Canuck on zone exits — safely moving the puck out of Vancouver’s end — but is among the top five in the NHL. Yes, Area 51 tracks zone exits and zone denials, the defensive sister stat, for every NHL player.

Tanev makes the Canucks better. And not only is his average cap hit of $4.45 million less than a lot of other 21-minute-a-night defencemen, it will be a bargain in two or three years.

SHALLOW DEPTH: Under Desjardins, the Canucks truly are a four-line team. But their scoring depth has suddenly evaporated.

Matthias, Hansen, Dorsett and Ronalds Kenins haven’t a point in five games and centre Linden Vey hasn’t registered a point in nine.

“It’s been frustrating,” Vey said. “At the start of the year, I was getting bounces. The last four or five games, I think I’ve been playing a lot better but not finding the back of the net or getting on the scoresheet.

“I think consistency is the big issue for me. The first 60 games were a little up and down, and maybe that was expected being my first full season in the league. I think lately I’ve started to bring more consistent effort, and I’ve just got to focus on that.”

Vey is only 23 and may yet get better. But choosing him over Mike Santorelli last summer to be the Canucks’ third-line centre this season was one of general manager Jim Benning’s few mistakes.

imacintyre@vancouversun.comTwitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks’ Shawn Matthias, left, skates past Los Angeles Kings’ Brayden McNabb during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Los Angeles.
 

Vancouver Canucks’ Shawn Matthias, left, skates past Los Angeles Kings’ Brayden McNabb during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Los Angeles.

Photograph by: Jae C. Hong, AP

 
Vancouver Canucks’ Shawn Matthias, left, skates past Los Angeles Kings’ Brayden McNabb during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Vancouver Canucks’ Shawn Matthias (27) celebrates his third goal against Boston Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask, left, of Finland, as Dennis Seidenberg, of Germany, reacts during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday February 13, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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