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Complacent Canucks riding for a fall

Photo from Flickr/Mafue

You have to wonder how much Vancouver Canucks President and General Manager Mike Gillis identifies with Kevin Spacey’s character in House of Cards. The on-ice product of his hockey team is at once impressive, disappointingly ugly, and hinting at inevitable disaster.

Five games shy of the halfway mark of the shortened post-lockout season and his team is just about exactly where it should be: Third in the Western Conference and first in its division, streaking toward home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

They’ve done it with long-term injuries to significant players and — in the first few weeks — a slow start to the season for both Henrik and Daniel Sedin. They’ve leaned on rookies, successfully juggled an awkward goaltending time-share, and (unsuccessfully) broken in new player Jason Garrison whose arrival has spurred new (unsuccessful) adjustments on the blueline.

They’ve survived adversity and remain king of the weakest division in the league, fattening up on the offensively anemic bottom feeders of the Northwest. Yet they’re also one of only three teams to beat both league powerhouses Chicago and Anaheim.

They’ve begun to build a perception of being a team driven by complacency and indifference.

If they’re not coasting into games they’re coasting out of them — waiting to either “flip the switch” late in games for a comeback or determined to sit on one and two goal leads early and hope Cory Schneider or Roberto Luongo are up for a workout in goal.

They’re plagued by defensive breakdowns, they’re coughing up unpressured giveaways, and they’re starting too many shifts without the puck because they’re getting erratic faceoff performances from Henrik Sedin and Max Lapierre. They’re taking bad penalties and leaving coverage of the front of their own crease to the hope and prayer of Divine Intervention.

How frustrated must Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo be right now? Well, Schneider anyways. It’s hard to imagine anything frustrating the “new” Roberto Luongo and his channeling of Peter Gibbons from Office Space.

But each goaltender has kept their team in games the larger group has had no business winning or squeezing points out of.

Until Sunday in Detroit happened — a game which was the ultimate microcosm for the way this team has played this season.

Playing their fifth game in eight days the Canucks started strong against the Red Wings, enjoyed a 3-2 lead heading into the second period, then bottomed out completely — giving up six unanswered goals the rest of the way en route to an 8-3 drubbing. It was the way many games might have turned out for the Canucks this season had one of their goaltenders not thrown together yet another other world performance.

Sunday’s game against the Red Wings wasn’t as ugly as the final score indicated, but the Canucks also aren’t playing as good as their overall record and place in the standings indicate.

There’s precedence here. Last season the Canucks coasted into the playoffs on a cushion of dreams about life in the second and third rounds while the teams around them were fighting life and death games.

We know how that story ended: with an embarrassing whimper, as the Canucks rolled over and bellowed mercy at the first sign of a flesh wound against a Kings team ready to fall on its own sword.

The “flip the switch” mentality of bringing the goods when it matters and far less when it doesn’t is off putting, to say the least, and it appears to be a stupefyingly terrible strategy at the same time. It killed the Canucks last spring, has cost them games this season, and seems to once again be the official mantra heading toward April and June this year.

So buckle up, and get ready for some more indifference down the stretch. 

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