The lack of true grit
The lack of grit in Kevin Bieksa and his fellow Canucks is causing problems in recent games. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO)
The Canucks are missing something.
Mired in a club-record seven-game home-losing skid, this Vancouver team has strayed from the style that general manager Mike Gillis molded them to become ever since his tenure began.
The rookie GM wanted a gritty team. He wanted a team that opponents would be afraid to play against.
So during the off-season, Gillis brought in enforcer Darcy Hordichuk, Shane O'Brien, Rob Davison and Steve Bernier, who currently leads the team in hits.
These bruising additions, along with Kevin Bieksa, Mattias Ohlund, Alex Burrows, Willie Mitchell, Mike Brown and more, aimed to imitate the physicality like the Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks two years ago.
"We're fortunate to have a lot of guys who play that way," said Bieksa. "The ability for guys to drop their gloves and stick up for teammates has been one of our strengths this year."
During the season's first half, the intimidating squad which Gillis had envisioned did show up to play.
It was a team that recorded 12 multiple-fight games - including a trio of three-fight nights. It was a team that rocked the Nashville Predators on Dec. 9 during Vancouver's feistiest game by far this season. And it was a team that made opponents think twice before crashing the Vancouver crease or taking shots at the top players.
But all that has leveled off in the past few weeks.
Prior to Monday night, Vancouver had the most fighting majors with 49 - Hordichuk and Brown both have 11 - and was first in the NHL with 851 penalty minutes - O'Brien leads the league with 128 PIMs. But those numbers are only just a strong testament to Vancouver's style of play before the current slump.
With only three wins in the past 13 games, this team has been visibly out-hit, out-battled, and out-worked by their opponents. The once-ferocious lions have become timid kittens, or so it seems.
There is no doubt that this Canucks team is capable of holding its own against the toughest in the league, the problem however, is a lack of commitment to playing that gritty style night in and night out.
In order for Vancouver to bump this slump, they need to revert back to that team toughness which brought early season success.
They need to find the grit that has recently been eluding this team. And they need to skate hard, finish every check, and play with heart and determination for the full 60 minutes.
This season will only get tougher. It's time the Canucks do so as well.