The Canucks ended 2013 on a 10-1-2 run and begin 2014 with a sloppy loss to Tampa Bay that was probably caused by many members of the team being drunk and hungover by puck drop.
It is always a positive when your team collects 22 out of a possible 28 points. The downside of this recent streak? The team only beat two legitimate cup contenders, Chicago and Boston.
The next six games will show a lot about this team. The schedule goes like this: away in LA and Anaheim, then home for Pittsburgh and St. Louis, followed by away in LA and Anaheim again. The Canucks have shown the ability to beat lesser teams, and have feasted on the East for years now, but the struggles continue against the top ones. They have a 4-5-3 record against the teams ahead of them in the league standings so far this season, and each of those teams are serious contenders come playoff time.
Every team they play in their next six (sans Pittsburgh) is a mix of extremely physical and highly skilled personnel, which have proven to be the Canucks kryptonite in their last three playoffs series losses. The team is playing with a higher level of intensity thanks to John Tortorella and their defence has been amazing, shown by being fourth in goals against and number one on the penalty kill. What hasn’t improved? Goal scoring.
Vancouver is 14th in goals for, and a terrible 24th on the power play, these two stats go hand-in-hand. When the Canucks were top five in power play percentage, they were amongst the top five in scoring. Working the puck around to load up a point shot by Jason Garrison has not been the answer over the last season and a half, and if they want to improve, this has to change. When the PP was at its best, their point men (Salo and Ehrhoff) were used to facilitate the play, not finish it.
In 12 games played against the top seven in the league, Vancouver is averaging 2.16 goals (if you take out the blowout versus the Bruins it comes down 1.63), which will not get it done in April, May and hopefully June. The magic number for the Canucks is 3, their record when scoring less is 4-12-3.
The team is playing above expectations coming into the season, but just making it to the postseason will not satisfy a fan base that is desperate for a championship. Daniel Sedin is no longer the goal scorer he once was, and the team is lacking a player who is a constant threat to score when on the ice. The Sedin’s have steadily declined their point totals since winning back to back Art Ross trophies. This year they are on pace for a 70 point season, which is not good enough for your first line. They are the team leaders but if they continue at this pace, new blood will have to be transfused into the lineup.
During Sunday’s broadcast versus Calgary, Sportsnet’s Brian Lawton said the Canucks are one top six forward away from being a legitimate cup contender, and he’s right. Should the Canucks trade a Horvat or Shinkaruk to add what could be a missing piece? Absolutely not. If the right deal comes along where trading their 2014 first rounder is part of the asking price, they must do it.
The next six games will preview what exactly the Canucks will be like come playoff time. If the team fails to score consistently during the stretch it will send the city into a panic, similar to what we saw in November when they went on a 1-4-3 run that saw losses to LA, San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago. Beating the teams you’re suppose to beat shows a good team, consistently winning against the best is the marks of a great one.
The pros as we pass the midway point of the season – the emergence of the third line and Eddie Lack
The Canucks finally have a third line that is a threat to score goals for the first time since their dominant 2010-11 campaign (it was a Hansen-Malhotra-Torres combo then). David Booth looks the best he has since coming over from Florida and Kassian seems to be growing more comfortable by the day. Brad Richardson has been playing extremely well and it will be interesting to see what Tortorella does when Alex Burrows returns from injury.
Eddie Lack has been the feel good story of the season for Vancouver. The backup goaltender position was huge concern coming into the season, and he has given this team more than they would have from a guy like Jason Labarbera. He filled in excellently for Luongo who should be back in net at some point this weekend.