Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Depth on Defense

Ben Kuzma beat me to the punch with his article in today's Vancouver Province about the Vancouver Canucks' top-four defensemen and their increased ice-time.

In theory, it makes sense. Ask too many top players to play too many minutes and you get too many mistakes and too many losses.

But Ed Jovanovski doesn't buy that logic. Even though the Canucks defenceman logged 28 minutes, 51 seconds Monday in a 2-1 loss to Calgary -- his second-highest total this season -- he won't link it to five straight one-goal losses.

"I feel better when I'm playing more," Jovanovski said Tuesday. "Yeah, sometimes you have a long shift and the tendency is you might force something out of being fatigued. But that's where you've really got to bear down."

While that outlook is admirable, the bottom line is Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Bryan Allen and Jovanovski are overworked. Only Salo has logged less than his season average during the losing skid. Over the five losses Ohlund is a minus-4 and has averaged 25:47, compared to an average of 25:06. Salo is a minus-4 and has averaged 25:02, compared to 25:06. Allen is a plus-2 and has averaged 22:43 compared to 20:25, while Jovanovski is even and has averaged 26:31, compared to 25:26.

During the current winless streak, four of the team's six defensemen accounted for 80% of the team's available minutes on defense. Last season, the Canucks' top-four defensemen (in terms of ice-time) were: Ohlund (25:47), Jovanovski (23:11), Salo (22:14) and Sopel (21:55) - these four accounted for only 71% of the available minutes.

Compared to the top-four from last season, the current group is averaging an additional seven minutes of ice-time per game over the last five games.

Last season, the Canucks were able to count on their fifth and sixth defensemen, Marek Malik (18:05) and Bryan Allen (16:51), to shoulder extended ice-time. So far this season, none of Nolan Baumgartner, Steve McCarthy or any of the Moose call-ups have proven able to play similar minutes. Steve McCarthy, in particular, has been disappointing during the winless streak, averaging just over 9 minutes of ice-time in the four games he's played; he was also a healthy scratch for one of the games.

At some point, Dave Nonis will have to address the lack of depth on defense. Kevin Bieksa may be the answer, but his NHL career is only four games old. The return of Nolan Baumgartner (15:01) may also help. However, even after that, I think most fans will prefer an upgrade to the team's defense. And so do I.
posted by J.J. Guerrero, 4:53 PM


At December 29, 2005 8:03 AM, Blogger ninja said...

So the losing is more the D's fault than Auld's?

At December 29, 2005 6:58 PM, Blogger hoopsjunky said...

Auld played poorly in the 7-6 loss to Edmonton. But same with the everyone else on the ice that night. Aside from that, it's hard to completely fault Auld for the losses.

The team needs to make smarter decisions with or without the puck. Over the winless streak, we've seen them turn the puck over on their breakouts, leave their guys open in front of the net, etc. When those things happen and other team scores, it's hard to just blame the goalie.


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