Anders Nilsson says there isn’t a quick fix for the Vancouver Canucks and their leaky defence.
After an unexpectedly bright 14-10-4 start to the season, the Canucks have surrendered an NHL-high 36 goals while suffering regulation losses in six of their last seven games.
“Everyone, including me and the whole team, hasn’t played at their best level these last few weeks,” said Nilsson, who allowed six goals in Tuesday’s 7-5 home loss to the Montreal Canadiens. ”Everyone needs to step up. Me personally, I know I can play better. I know I need to play better.
“There’s no shortcuts.”
It’s been ugly at times, with defeats of 7-1, 6-1, 5-1 and that 7-5 setback — games where Vancouver’s goalies have often been scrambling in the crease or stretching in futile attempts to stop a wide-open opponent as the club’s defensive structure that’s been hampered by a number of key injuries collapses around them.
“We haven’t managed the puck as well … given up some odd-man rushes, some backdoor plays,” said Canucks first-year head coach Travis Green. ”It’s hard for goalies when you’re giving up east-west, grade ‘A’ chances. Those are tough saves to make.
“For the most part when our goalies have good sight lines and see the puck, they’ve done a good job saving it.”
The netminders are far from innocent victims, with both Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom guilty of soft goals at key times, but Green has been loath to point a finger in their direction.
“If you’re trying to get me to pin this on goaltending, I’m not going to do that,” Green said Wednesday. ”Our goalies are not going to sit there and say they’ve been standing on their head.
“They’re going to sit there and say, ‘We need to play a little better.’”
Heading into Wednesday’s action, Vancouver had surrendered at least eight more goals than any other team since Dec. 7, with the Canucks’ 5-on-5 save percentage sitting at a league-worst .876 over that span.
Since the Canucks beat the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 5, Nilsson’s 5-on-5 save percentage stands at .891 in his four appearances, including three starts, while Markstrom’s sits at .848 in his four starts.
Among goalies across the league with at least 13 appearances, Markstrom ranks 27th with an overall save percentage of .907, while Nilsson is 30th at .905.
Nilsson said it’s not a coincidence the Canucks, who visit the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, and their goalies both find themselves in a funk at the same time.
“Everything is connected,” said the Swede. ”At the beginning of the year we played really good as a team structurally, and both me an Marky were playing really good. The team has been struggling a little bit, and both me and Markstrom have been struggling a little bit, too.
“If the team plays good, usually the goalie plays good. If the goalie has a shutout, it’s not just because of the goalie — it’s because the whole team has been playing good in front of us.”
There’s no doubt injuries have played a factor in the deluge of goals the Canucks have surrendered.
No. 1 centre Bo Horvat’s broken foot has coincided with the slide, while checking centre Brandon Sutter (upper body) and top-pair defenceman Christopher Tanev (groin) are also on the sidelines.
Asked if there needs to be tweaks or changes to the Canucks’ structure with so many key pieces out — perhaps pulling back on Green’s aggressive system that encourages defenceman to jump up in the play — captain Henrik Sedin instead doubled down on what made the club successful early on this season.
“We’re not being as aggressive as we need to be,” he said. ”When we play at our best, we’re on our toes, our forecheck is really good. When we have that in our game it’s like everything falls into place. Right now we’re in between a lot of times, and we’re not skating hard enough to get in on the forecheck.
“It’s easy sometimes to look at what happens in our end, but it starts in their end with a good forecheck. That needs to be our focus.”
Notes: Vancouver re-assigned forward Michael Chaput to the AHL’s Utica Comets on Wednesday. … Green wouldn’t say whether or not defenceman Ben Hutton, who was a healthy scratch against Montreal, would draw back into the lineup in San Jose. Vancouver’s only victory in last seven games was Friday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Sharks.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press