The Vancouver Canucks have surpassed the expectations of most so far this year. Currently sitting in ninth place in the NHL, they have hit the ground running so far in the season. After 29 games, they are hanging out with the some of the heavy hitters in the league. But are they for real? They are probably going to be a playoff team, but they are likely to regress as the season goes on.
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Despite a sparkling record of 18-7-1, the Canucks’ defence has left something to be desired. Other than the Edler-Tanev pairing, the Canucks have struggled to find another strong pairing due to injuries and poor play in general. This was true even with Dan Hamhuis in the lineup. Advanced stats while playing 5-on-5 reflects that statement as well. The Canucks at 5-on-5, rank 18th in Corsi for% and 13th in shots against per 60 minutes.
While these numbers aren’t disastrous, they will certainly need to be improved upon in order for the team to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the NHL. This will also start to bite them deeper into the season, when teams put an emphasis on staying out of the penalty box which maximizes 5-on-5 play.
Things aren’t getting any easier from here either, as the long-term absence of Dan Hamhuis has only magnified these concerns, and will continue to as long as the defence plays the way it is.
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Thus far, it seems that night-in and night-out a different line steps up to the plate for Vancouver. While the Sedin line has been playing well, they’ve been able to take the occasional night off from the scoresheet because of the great play of the second, third and fourth lines.
Who would have expected that bottom six forwards like Richardson, Matthias, Hansen, Vey, and Dorsett would all have more than 10 points this early in the season? Jannik Hansen is on pace for 23 goals playing primarily on the fourth line and without power play time. Brad Richardson is on pace for 20 goals. Shawn Matthias is on pace for 17.
It’s not just the bottom six that has contributed to strong secondary scoring. A second line that seemed very questionable at the start of the year has also clicked, led by Nick Bonino who is looking to improve on his 49 point breakout performance from last season. Once we look beyond those numbers, we have to ask ourselves, can we keep scoring like this consistently even when the times get tough?
The second line has already started to show signs of cracking. Nick Bonino is without a goal in his last 15 games. The trio was held pointless in the last six games of the most recent Canucks road trip.
It’s still relatively early on in the regular season, but most will agree that the Canucks goaltending has not been good enough. While starter Ryan Miller’s 16-6-0 record doesn’t show it, he has been largely inconsistent.
With the exception of the 3-2 victory in San Jose last month, Miller hasn’t “stolen” a win for the team so far. This is reflected in his goalie point shares(GPS) number. The GPS is an estimate of the points that the goaltender has contributed; for Miller, his number so far is a 2.8. If you compare that figure to what he has done in the past, you can see that he hasn’t been up to par with himself. Not only that, but his save percentage of .905 is abysmal. As well, in his losses he has a GAA of 4.37, which leaves something to be desired.
The Canucks rank 27th in the league for save percentage while playing 5-on-5. That’s atrocious, but should improve unless we are witnessing age catching up to Ryan Miller.
Canucks fans should be thrilled with the team’s performance so far, however they have been a bit fortunate to be here thanks to timely scoring, very good special teams play, and a surplus of secondary scoring. If the well starts to run dry for the eighth highest scoring team in the league before their defence and goaltending improves, they could be in for a tumble down the standings.
The Canucks are not likely as potent offensively and Ryan Miller is not likely as poor as he has shown. If those two things balance out and their defence can stay healthy, fans should expect a return to the playoffs.
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