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Frontline Research: Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks aren’t scoring many goals. That seems bad.

Philadelphia Flyers v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vancouver Canucks are having a hard time scoring goals in this young season. Why is that happening? They’ve got a healthy mix of forwards, some solid goaltending, and the defence...they’re there too. Here to help me make sense of it all is editor Trevor Beggs from SB Nation’s sibling site ‘Nucks Misconduct. Trevor helps provide some answers to some of my questions about what’s been happening in Vancouver early on this year, like...where are the goals?

Let’s dive right in.

Copper and Blue: It’s still early in the season, but the Canucks aren’t putting the puck in the net. The club is averaging just 2.5 goals per game in their first eight, good for 24th in the league. What’s keeping the Canucks off the scoreboard?

Trevor @ ‘Nucks Misconduct: It’s even worse for the Canucks than just the lack of goals. They’re dead-last in the entire NHL for even-strength scoring chances generated and expected goals-for.

The whole team has looked out of sync, but it starts with the top players. Elias Pettersson looks like he’s still playing catch up after missing the entire latter half of last season, this year’s training camp and most of the preseason. Brock Boeser also missed the first few games of the season. No excuse for JT Miller, but he hasn’t looked sharp either.

These guys will likely figure it out...and they’ll have to if the Canucks are going to be competitive.

C&B: While the Canucks have struggled to score overall, Conor Garland has done well so far. He’s got eight points (3-5-8) in eight games on the top line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Is this a hot start, or can we expect more of the same from Garland throughout the year?

NM: I think this is just who Garland is. Over the past three seasons, his five-on-five numbers have been first-line calibre. I was even more bullish on Garland than most of my Nucks Misconduct comrades, with my prediction that he’ll finish second on the team in points, behind only Pettersson.

C&B: As troublesome as the scoring has been early on, goaltending has been steady for Vancouver so far. Thatcher Demko is holding it down early with a .921 SV% with Jaroslav Halak just behind. Is this a duo that can handle the business this year?

NM: There should be a little less confidence in Halak since he’s used to playing behind strong defensive systems, but there should be little doubt about Demko’s abilities.

The 2020 bubble wasn’t a mirage. Demko never seems to be out of position or let in a bad goal.

In a world where goaltending is wildly unpredictable from year to year, banking on Demko’s success seems like a solid bet. He has the talent to challenge for a Vezina this season, although he won’t have a real shot at winning if the Canucks aren’t a playoff team.

C&B: Tell us about a Canucks prospect that could have a breakout year in 2021-22.

NM: The two rookies on our team to watch are Jack Rathbone and Vasily Podkolzin. Both of them have pretty high ceilings, but of the two, I think Rathbone is probably the one who could have a breakout.

He’s at a disadvantage since he’s behind Quinn Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the left side of the defence, but Rathbone is almost like a Hughes-lite in the sense that he can put on a show when the puck is on his stick. Podkolzin’s emergence will likely be more gradual.

C&B: Former Oiler Alex Chaisson turned a PTO into a deal with Vancouver. Chiasson spent significant time on the power play during his years in Edmonton, what’s he been up to in Vancouver?

NM: Poor Chiasson is already drawing the ire from some Canucks fans. He’s been stapled to the top power play unit where he’s potted a couple of goals, although the power play has looked stagnant. Fans are (rightly) clamouring for more Brock Boeser and Conor Garland on the top unit instead of Chiasson.

At five-on-five, his game is not NHL level. He doesn’t have the speed to keep up, and he’s already been burned on multiple occasions (including the opener against Edmonton).

C&B: Finally, what needs to happen for the Canucks to make the playoffs this year?

NM: Funny enough, the Achilles heel of this team appeared to be the defence. Early on though, the Canucks’ defence has gone from league-worst to just below average...which is a significant development.

The problem is now the offence. As the season progresses, the Canucks best players need to step up and start scoring. If that comes to fruition and Demko can continue stealing games, then the Canucks should be a playoff team in this weak division.

That being said, my faith in this Canucks team is pretty low, but you folk in Edmonton know what that’s all about.

The Oilers clash with the Canucks on Saturday at 8 PM.

Thanks to Trevor for his time. Visit Trevor on Twitter, or catch him at Nucks Misconduct.