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2016-17 NHL Season preview: Vancouver Canucks

2016-17 NHL Season preview: Vancouver Canucks

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Vancouver Canucks

How they did last season: 31-38-13 (75 points); 6th in the Pacific Division; 13th in the Western Conference. Missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

Notable acquisitions: LW Loui Eriksson, D Erik Gudbranson, D Philip Larsen, LW Anton Rodin and C Jayson Megna.  

Notable departures: D Dan Hamhuis, D Yannick Weber, RW Radim Vrbata, C Jared McCann and RW Linden Vey.

When they will play the Caps: Oct. 29 in Vancouver; Dec. 11 in Washington.  

Analysis: The Canucks endured a very difficult 2015-16, missing the playoffs by 12 points and finishing a lowly 28th in the league.

And while a number of deficiencies contributed to a season that began with such promise only to go completely off the rails in February and March, there was one consistent theme throughout the injury-plagued campaign: the Canucks couldn’t score, at least with any regularity.

In fact, their 186 goals were the league’s second worst total (and 62 fewer than the Capitals’ second-best mark).The power play was equally unproductive, connecting just 15.8-percent of the time (27th). Their goal differential? An NHL-worst minus-52.

That’s where the addition of Eriksson comes in. Assuming he plays on the right side of the first line with countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the 31-year-old gives the Canucks one of the most skilled trios in the game. He should also provide the scuffling power play with a boost.

The acquisition of Gudbranson, meantime, should help solidify the Canucks’ top-4 defensemen. The 6 foot 5, 216-pounder figures to skate alongside Ben Hutton on the second pairing. If nothing else, the blue line figures to be big and physical, and that should help reduce the ridiculous number of Grade-A scoring chances 36-year-old Ryan Miller seemed to face on a nightly basis.

There are, however, a few significant question marks facing the team as training camp approaches. For one, I wonder if GM Jim Benning did enough to address the scoring issue. Eriksson is a good start. But it seems to me that Benning might be expecting too much from Rodin, a 25-year-old Swedish League star who is coming off a knee injury. It also appears that Benning’s plan relies—a lot—on youngsters like Bo Horvat (40 points), Sven Baertschi (28 points) and Jake Virtanen (7 goals) upping their game.

Season prediction: 

I frankly think there’s still too much uncertainty—particular among the forwards not named Eriksson or Sedin—to pencil the Canucks in as playoff contenders next season.

Will they score enough? Will the power play show meaningful improvement? Can the defense do more to help Miller? Can Miller be more consistent?

Any and/or all of that might happen. But as I look at the current roster, I’m having difficulty answering, ‘Yes’ to any of those questions…with any conviction, at least. If they end up missing the postseason for a second straight year (something that hasn't happened since 2000), it might force the franchise to (finally) embrace the need to rebuild.

Other team previews:

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers 
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.