The biggest question mark coming into the season has held true; this team cannot defend.
This losing streak can be attributed to three things, in my opinion. First: the injury to Patrik Laine threw a wrench in this team’s plans. They were playing very well until he went down, and any time you lose a player of this caliber, it stings. Lines become jumbled, guys get put into roles they probably shouldn’t be playing, and it’s easy for the group to lose focus. This is a team that is built to outscore some of its problems, and without one of the best snipers in the game, that becomes a lot more difficult.
In his absence, we’ve seen a collection of players trying to fill the void on the top line, including Yegor Chinakhov, Gustav Nyquist, Justin Danforth, and Jakub Voracek. So far, there doesn’t seem to be a good match to keep pace offensively with Johnny Gaudreau. I would also argue that Boone Jenner seems to be holding this line back as well; their offensive chances have mostly been one and done. We knew finding the right center for this line would be key to generating offense, but Laine going down certainly doesn’t help.
The second issue I’m seeing with this team? They are still getting pushed around. Jarmo Kekalainen went out and added toughness to his fourth line, and his third defense pairing, and they have done virtually nothing to make this team harder to play against. Mathieu Olivier has had some good shifts and honestly is a better NHL player than I was expecting. But we haven’t yet seen this physical toughness or level of protection from him.
Erik Gudbranson has been arguably the worst player on the ice for the club through three games, and like Olivier, has done nothing to protect his teammates. We saw Gaudreau get hit after a whistle in Carolina. Brent Burns was running all over the place and the Canes in general were causing havoc in after-whistle scrums. We saw Daniil Tarasov bowled over on a Lightning goal (see video above). When are these guys going to bring the toughness they were hired to bring?
You can see the results already, as several of the younger players look like they don’t want the puck. Momentum can be turned by something as simple as these guys doing something, anything, to protect their teammates.
Lastly, and we knew this one would be an issue: the team defense. The biggest question mark coming into the season has held true; this team cannot defend. Even the shutdown pairing of Vladislav Gavrikov and Andrew Peeke looks lost defensively. Just look at this goal by the Lightning… what were they defending?
There isn’t any chemistry amongst the pairings, and it’s really hard to find a single positive thing to say about the team in its defensive zone. Fixing the back end, should be priority #1 here. Is it a coaching issue, or a personnel issue? Maybe both?