Ottawa Senators 2 at Vancouver Canucks 5 – 2023-03-11 recap

With apologies to the Nashville game earlier this season, this may have been the worst game of the season to watch.

When I start tracking the game, the first thing I do is find the official NHL play-by-play sheet and count the number of faceoffs in the game. More faceoffs means the game does not flow as much, and anything over 55 faceoffs can be agonizingly tedious.

That Nashville game I referred to above (you can see there was a point in the season where I apologized for the game going up the following afternoon, before a weird sleep schedule nearly destroyed me) had 73 faceoffs, and the teams exiting with control at a combined 44%. Generally, that exits number also correlates with a game’s watchability. If neither team is breaking the puck out clean, you get into a type of sport I like to call “whack puck” where both sides are just slapping the puck at random, and maybe it bounces to a player in a good position to set up a shot.

Saturday night’s Canucks-Sens game had “only” 67 faceoffs (it had a few stretches with no whistles for at least four minutes at a time, but also had some very bad stretches) but the teams collectively exited the DZ with control 44% of the time, same as the Nashville game. There were far more turnovers in this game though, and not due to any sort of good forechecking ability, but mostly just due to pure incompetence.

It’s important to contextualize the Senators when discussing the Canucks, since the Senators are basically what the Canucks are in danger of becoming had they entered into a lengthy rebuild process with no inherent plan in place beyond “draft high, hope our players hit” and while they probably would have made the playoffs this season if Josh Norris had stayed healthy all season, they’re so deep into the entry-level contracts for their best players but are a bubble team at best. Still, unlike the Canucks, they’re closer, and having backed into a few star players gives them way more capital and patience within their market.

The problem for the Sens is the same one plaguing the Canucks. Step back, and it’s a reasonably good forward core (the Sens is better and younger, however), but I believe that a team’s ceiling is impacted by the quality of its blueline. Thomas Chabot is a high-volume zone exit player with a similar profile to Quinn Hughes, and after that, it isn’t great. The team was counting on Jake Sanderson stepping in and being a star. He’s been alright, and now they’ve traded a second consecutive first-round pick for Jakob Chychrun, and are just as bad down the right side as they’ve always been.

This isn’t to say that it’s important to build from the net out, but that it’s important to develop more than one good defenceman. It’s a hard task, but your rebuild depends on it.

The Canucks had seen some improvement (well, until this game) in defenceman play, but it’s been primarily players that likely won’t be here for the long haul. I’m familiar with Justin Holl, who didn’t become a full-time player until he turned 28, which is the age Wolanin will be next season and a little older than Brisebois and Juulsen, so while it’s possible, the three of them are likely more of stop-gap than anything, and this game against the Sens proves that they still only really have that one defenceman that can consistently bring quality, and that’s Hughes.

Anyway, the Canucks are on a mini-run at this point, which is hurting the draft position but is also the first one they’ve gone on all season. They’ve won 7 of their last 10, but have only beaten two playoff teams in that span, and four of those wins are in overtime, so I’m not worried too much that they’ve become some sustainable juggernaut that is going to make a run all the way to 9th place. Some cracks showed on Saturday.

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