Canucks’ injuries make it difficult to end their losing streak

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Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser are both day to day.

The start of the 2022-23 season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Vancouver Canucks.

Stuck on a seven-game losing streak, the Canucks desperately need to find a way to win a game. There are many reasons why the team is struggling to find a win. There have been defensive lapses, struggles to get the puck out cleanly and Thatcher Demko hasn’t stolen games the way she’s shown she’s capable in the past.

Not that it’s Demko’s fault, per se. He has repeatedly faced shots that seemed impossible to stop. It’s just that Canucks fans have seen him make seemingly impossible saves, too. Without Demko making those stops, the Canucks have been exposed.

There’s another factor that has made it difficult for the Canucks to buy a win and snap out of their early-season slump: injuries.

Injury crowd on defense

Injuries are no excuse, every NHL team faces them, but they certainly don’t make things any easier for a team that was already in a tough spot. The Canucks have the depth up front to deal with injuries pretty well, but they lack defensive depth.

At the start of the season, the Canucks were missing two defensemen, Tyler Myers with a lower-body injury and Travis Dermott with a concussion, as well as newly acquired top-nine winger Ilya Mikheyev with an injury. in the lower part of the body. Even when Myers and Mikheyev returned to the lineup after three games, other players made it to the disabled list.

Tucker Poolman has played just three games this season and is now on long-term injured reserve with no target date for his return. His 2021-22 season ended with migraines, though it’s unknown what keeps him out of the lineup currently.

Riley Stillman hasn’t played since taking a hit to the head against the Minnesota Wild and is considered day-to-day.

That does not mean that there are no injured strikers. Brock Boeser, after recovering from hand surgery in time for the season opener, missed Monday’s game with an undisclosed injury and is on a day-to-day basis. Curtis Lazar was added to injured reserve Wednesday and is expected to miss three to four weeks after trying to play with an undisclosed injury.

The injury that has hurt the most in the past two games is to Quinn Hughes, a lower-body injury that head coach Bruce Boudreau called week-to-week but general manager Patrik Allvin called day-to-day on Wednesday, saying he hopes he’ll be back next week.

Hughes is the only Canucks defenseman who can consistently evade the fore-punch and get the puck out of the backcourt. Without Hughes, the defense struggled in that area against the Buffalo Sabers and Carolina Hurricanes.

With Hughes, Dermott, Poolman and Stillman out of the lineup, the Canucks’ defensive depth is being severely tested. The Canucks have already dressed ten defenders this season; they’ve had seasons where they’ve never dressed as many, like the 2019-20 season when they used just eight defenders all year and one of them, Ashton Sautner, went for just one game.

“They are our veterans.”

Instead of the injured players, Kyle Burroughs has had to play a bigger role and has mostly been up to the task. AHL call-ups Guillaume Brisebois and Noah Juulsen have taken on third-part roles with varying degrees of success: Juulsen seems overwhelmed at the NHL level, but Brisebois played a simple game against the Hurricanes, avoiding mistakes and preventing dangerous chances.

However, the defensemen the Canucks really need the most are veterans Oliver Ekman-Larrson and Tyler Myers, and rookie Jack Rathbone.

Ekman-Larsson and Myers were at least league-average as a close pair last season: They regularly faced stiff competition and, with Demko’s help behind them, kept the puck off the net.

This season, they are not doing so well. Myers’ injury earlier in the year doesn’t help, but it appears Ekman-Larsson is playing even more conservatively than usual, holding a wide gap to avoid being beaten by his diminished skating ability but, as a result, allowing the Opposing forwards get into the Canucks’ zone too easily.

In addition to being too permissive, Ekman-Larsson’s disk management hasn’t been good enough. He had two bad draws in the first home game that led to goals against in the first half. Fast passing has never really been the strength of Ekman-Larsson’s game: he was always better at skating the puck, but his declining mobility has limited his ability to do so.

Boudreau put the responsibility on the veterans after Saturday’s game.

“Many of the defenders who were there were working [butts off], young people anyway, doing what they could to help stem the tide,” Boudreau said. “But it’s our veterans, they’re the only ones — leaders have to take this and say, ‘Okay, enough is enough.’ And if they don’t, then it’s a long year.”

Rathbone looks good but the results have not been

That said, what the Canucks really need is for Jack Rathbone to step up his game.

Rathbone was unable to break the lineup in the first five games of the season, even as the Canucks suffered repeated losses. It took injuries for Rathbone to finally get into the lineup for the home opener.

Now that he’s in the lineup, Rathbone looks like an NHL-caliber offensive defenseman. He has the ability to handle the puck and skate to evade the forecheck, can pass the puck quickly, and appears to be the only Canucks defender other than Hughes who actually acts as a catalyst on the offensive end, attacking aggressively from the point with a quick pass. -and- it’s going to open passing lanes down.

The bad thing is that the results have not yet followed for Rathbone. When he’s been on the ice at 5v5, shot attempts have been 36-22 for the opposition and the Canucks have been outscored 3-0. His Natural Stat Trick Expected Goals Percentage is a staggering 17.74%, the lowest among Canucks defensemen, and high-danger chances have been 12-0 against.

That’s not entirely on Rathbone. On occasion, his teammates have invited him to try (one of Ekman-Larsson’s gifts on Saturday led to one such goal against Rathbone on the ice), but he has had a few turnovers to his credit. the.

But with Hughes out for the time being, Rathbone might be the Canucks’ only hope for an offensive hit from the back end. At some point, he has to start tilting the ice in the other direction. So far, as good as it looks, the Canucks are drowning when Rathbone has been on the ice.

New medical and training staff

The Canucks have an almost entirely new medical staff this season dealing with these early injuries. Following the 2021–22 season, the Canucks fired head athletic therapist Jon Sanderson and head strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi, both long-time employees. Two assistant athletic therapists, Dave Zarn and Nick Addey-Jibb, were also fired, along with assistant strength and conditioning coach Ken Hetzel.

Josh Termeer, formerly with the Calgary Stampeders, is the Canucks’ new lead athletic therapist this season. Mark Cesari, former Toronto Maple Leafs strength and conditioning coach, replaced Takahashi.

The Canucks also hired two chiropractors. Dr. Harry Sese, a chiropractor and massage therapist, was primarily known for his work with golfers before joining the Canucks as a health and performance consultant: he heads the strength and conditioning department.

Dr. Erik Yuill was the team chiropractor for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Vancouver Warriors before joining the Canucks.

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