NHL Playoffs: 6 Changes the Vancouver Canucks Need to Make Heading into Game 3

John BainCorrespondent IIApril 14, 2012

NHL Playoffs: 6 Changes the Vancouver Canucks Need to Make Heading into Game 3

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    The Vancouver Canucks have put themselves in a very bad position heading into Los Angeles for Game 3 and Game 4 on the Kings' home turf. Down 2-0 in the series is not insurmountable to come back from, but in order for the Canucks to have any hope of redeeming themselves in the series, they must make some changes and get at least a split in L.A.

    There are so many things wrong with the Canucks' game right now, it is hard to put them all into one article—but we will do our best to cover the most glaring issues. The Vancouver Canucks are not playing their game so far this postseason, and if that doesn't change in Game 3, their hopes at redemption from last season's heartbreaking seventh-game loss to the Bruins in the Cup finals is all but lost.

    It may be as simple as the Canucks being lost without Daniel Sedin in their lineup, or it may be a multitude of issues—either way, without change immediately, the Canucks can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye in Hollywood.

Get Traffic to the Net

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    The Vancouver Canucks have only scored four goals through the first two games of their quarterfinal matchup with the Los Angeles Kings, but of those goals, most were scored with significant traffic in front of Kings goalie and Vezina candidate, Jonathan Quick.

    Traffic and chaos in front of Quick has proven to produce the Canucks' best chances at getting the puck behind the perennial All-Star—both in Game 1 and Friday night's 4-2 loss to the Kings.

    The Canucks may not have the biggest bodies up front, but it's the playoffs and time to play like big boys, and make some sacrifices of the body to get into Quick's line of sight. Quick is far too talented of a goaltender to be letting in goals that he can see, and he is nearly impossible to beat with the puck on the ice, so any deflections in front could mean goals for the Canucks.

    If the boys aren't willing to sacrifice pain and endure suffering for the betterment of the team by parking in front of the net, whether it is Chris Higgins, Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen or even Zack Kassian, they don't deserve to continue on through the postseason. 

    The Canucks are putting enough pucks on net, but they need to create traffic to get some lucky bounces and outscore the Kings in Game 3.

Must Improve Defensive Zone Breakouts

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    One noticeable aspect of the Vancouver Canucks game through the first two meetings with the L.A. Kings this playoff season is their atrocious attempts to break the puck out of their own zone. It almost seems as though they have forgotten how to do one of the most basic aspects of hockey that you learn as a youngster—how to get the puck out of your own zone safely.

    Too often has the L.A. forecheck kept the Canucks from successfully breaking the puck out, and even the Canucks defensemen themselves are keeping the puck in their end by way of turnovers. 

    In particular, D-men Alex Edler and Chris Tanev have especially struggled to break the puck out. Edler is quite possibly playing the worst hockey of his young career right now, and is trying to push the puck up the middle, basically setting up scoring chances for the Kings. For Tanev, it seems to be a lack of communication resulting in errant passes to no one up the boards.

    A lot of the Canucks' inability to break out has resulted in icing calls, which is never a good thing for any team, let alone a tired bunch. 

    Vancouver must work on its breakout so that they can keep the Kings' scoring chances to a minimum in Game 3, as well as keep the puck on a Canucks stick moving forward to the Kings zone.

Smarter Pinching by the Defense

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    It's as if half of the Vancouver Canucks defense thinks they are Keith Ballard and can skate through an entire team coast to coast and chip in offensively, but the Canucks defense needs to lay off the pinching and learn to play their position properly.

    Too often the Kings have created scoring chances by chipping the puck off the boards past the D-man who has got in too deep, giving up an odd man rush or hanging one of the Canucks forwards out to dry to play as the second defenseman.

    The Canucks defense needs to use their hockey smarts and judge better when it is the right time to pinch. For example, if the Kings have a man open up the middle and the puck is eight feet from escaping the offensive zone, don't pinch and get caught.

    Instead, pinch when it is absolutely necessary or if the Canucks have contained the offensive zone—but if it is chaotic, stay back and play your position, which is defense.

    Vancouver's defensive core has far too much experience to be getting caught in these situations, and must keep their mistakes to a minimum going into Game 3 to take some pressure off the goaltender and help their forwards out as well.

    They cannot be minus players if they hope to win Game 3.

Stay out of the Box

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    Despite the Los Angeles Kings netting just one power-play goal in Game 2, the Vancouver Canucks must stay out of the penalty box at all costs and play five-on-five as much as possible if they want to come back in this series.

    The Kings have converted on 25 percent of their power-play chances in the first two games of the series, and they only seem to be improving on special teams. 

    Vancouver has an astounding 59 penalty minutes in just two games played in this series. No team in the league can win when you average 29 PIMs a game. That much time shorthanded does not give your team the opportunity to skate away with victory.

    In fact, if it weren't for the stellar play of Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, the Canucks would most likely have been blown out in each of the first two games of the series.

    It is time to play with some urgency, but also caution. Not to be overly cautious, but cautious to the point of playing smart hockey—not letting the Kings get under their skin, and not taking stupid penalties. Sure, some penalties are acceptable, but the majority of the penalties the Canucks have taken in this series have been very avoidable.

    This may seem like an obvious thing to change going into the games in Los Angeles, but clearly the Canucks have not gotten the message. Should they smarten up and play the games straight up, five-on-five, they shouldn't have a problem winning hockey games.

Establish the Zone on the Power Play

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    The biggest weakness the Vancouver Canucks are struggling with going into Games 3 and 4 in L.A. is their power play. The Canucks at one point in the season had their power play running at upwards of 24 percent—tops in the league. However, over the past month and a half, it has seen its PP spiral out of control. So far this series, the Canucks power play is operating at 0-of-10, for zero percent—absolutely dismal.

    In fact, the Canucks power play is so bad, that it is a minus-two. Kings captain Dustin Brown notched two short-handed goals in the Kings' 4-2 victory over the Canucks in Game 2. 

    One of the biggest downfalls in the Canucks power play is their inability to establish control of the offensive zone. There is far too much individual play taking over on their power play, resulting in shorthanded chances for the Kings. They need to play as a unit, gain the zone and keep the zone to create scoring chances. 

    L.A. has had more chances at goals on Canucks power plays than the Canucks have; it is as simple as that.

    Vancouver must figure out the almost trap-like Kings penalty kill and establish a better power-play system to take advantage when they have the opportunity to put the puck behind Jonathan Quick. If they cannot improve their special-teams play, they will not find success.

Back to Basics

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    The number one reason the Vancouver Canucks are faltering so far in the postseason is that they are overplaying their system. There is far too much running around the ice, too much individual play and undisciplined play. The Canucks need to go back to basics to return to their winning ways. Take each play one at a time, connect on passes and make smart plays as a team

    Tape to tape, a cohesive unit, the Canucks need to remember what they learned as youngsters and apply it to their game. No more shot-passes, but rather shots on net with traffic in front, and return to the dump and chase instead of dumping and changing. Finish their checks, but only if it is legal. Trust their teammates with the puck and anticipate what will happen next and properly communicate on the ice.

    Realistically, if the Canucks stop over-thinking what they are doing and return to the basics, they will create a safer, better game for the team and should enable them to return to winning hockey games. It really always comes down to the basics of the game: get the puck on net, keep the zone, get back defensively, break the puck out and do it all over again.

    A return to the basics for the Vancouver Canucks going into L.A., should help them leave Hollywood with at least a split, and return to Vancouver with a tied series at 2-2, or a 3-1 deficit in favor of L.A. Either way, at least they will still be in the series and it won't be over quite yet. 

     

    John Bain is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist.

    Follow John on Twitter @JohnBainSports