Anyone who has followed the Vancouver Canucks over the last few years has noticed a distinct difference in the team this season and in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’ve been calm, composed and disciplined. It’s not an easy task when you’re in the midst of all the intense battles that go on in the playoffs, but the Canucks know it’s the only way for them to be successful and ultimately bring home the cup.
Take last season, for example. The Canucks were a team that played with passion. However, that passion also came with trash talking and the need for physical vengeance, which often resulted in bad penalties. In fact, the Canucks were the fifth most penalized team in the last season, and it had a direct impact on their demise against Chicago in the second round.
The Blackhawks got in their heads and baited the Canucks into losing their focus and taking stupid penalties. These are things you simply can’t do in a playoff series against a good team.
During this regular season, however, Vancouver made a concerted effort to be a much calmer team. The passion was still there, but the focus was on the game itself and not the extracurricular activities after the whistle. As a result, the Canucks decreased their time spent in the penalty box. They went from the 26th least penalized team in 2009-2010 to the 13th least penalized team this season.
The Canucks newfound discipline and composure also helped them take down the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators in this year's playoffs. The Blackhawks and Predators tried to play them physical and tried to take them out of their element, but their focus and even-keel attitude prevailed both times. They were playing tough and out-hitting the Blackhawks and Predators, but they were doing so within the rules and they rarely took any silly penalties along the way.
Now they’re in the thick of the Western Conference Finals against a team that appears to be their toughest challenge yet to stay composed against. The San Jose Sharks tried everything possible to rattle the focus of the Canucks in Game 2 of this series.
Anyone who watched the game saw the antics of Ben Eager in the second and third periods. They watched as Eager and many other Sharks basically gave up on playing hockey in the late stages of the game in favor of turning the game into a goon fest.
For the most part though, the Canucks didn’t bite. They did what they needed to do to stand up for themselves, but they really could have cared less about what a fringe player like Eager was doing. That’s composure.
But where was the discipline in Game 3? The Canucks took 10 penalties, which led to three power-play goals by the Sharks and ultimately cost them the game.
Ryan Kesler summed it up best when he said, “We’re a pretty good team when we stay out of the box. That’s going to be a theme for us moving forward.”
No kidding! Game 3 was a mirror image of Game 2 in terms of the penalties. The power plays in Game 3 were 10-to-5 in favor of San Jose, where as in Game 2 the power plays favored the Canucks by a 7-to-2 margin.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Canucks have to at least be even with the Sharks when it comes to taking penalties if they want to be successful moving forward. After all, the Sharks scored on their first five-man advantages of the series and are 6-for-13 in total on the power play. If it weren’t for that stat, the Canucks would easily have a 3-0 stranglehold on the Western Conference Finals.
The Canucks have proven they can stay composed in the face of adversity and agitators. They need to do it again in Game 4 of this series and they also need to cut down on the penalties, whether they result from a lack of discipline or not.
Daniel Sedin made a very good point after all the Game 2 shenanigans when he mentioned that sometimes certain players get frustrated because they know their team isn’t as good as the opposing team.
Daniel has a good point because it appears that the Canucks are better than the Sharks when both teams played at even strength. Hopefully for the Canucks, they can keep the majority of play at 5-on-5 for the rest of this series.