The Vancouver Canucks are playing with the big boys now. The San Jose Sharks, LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes are teams that the Canucks will need to vanquish on a nightly basis in the Pacific Division. Can they do it?
The Canucks are no longer in the lowly Northwest Division, where being division champs is an expectation. This is the Pacific Division. Teams like the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Coyotes are all Stanley Cup contenders that strike fear in opponents’ hearts. Okay, maybe not the Coyotes, but they have been playing very skillfully to start the regular season. Are the Canucks able to even compete with these bigger, stronger teams? Will they make the playoffs, let alone play deep into the summer?
If the Canucks want to make the playoffs, they will need a very strong, gritty performance night in and night out. We saw glimpses of this during the team’s long October road trip, where they collected 11 out of a possible 14 points, but we have not seen this on a consistent basis. They have been far too flat in some games and have looked uninspired.
A good example of this has been the recent few games. In their last 10 games, the Canucks have only won three games. They have been sluggish and just haven’t brought the swagger that every NHL team needs to succeed. A spark is something that our Canucks really need. Maybe a young excited player being called up, maybe a trade. But someone or something really needs to ignite a fire in the dressing room. An issue has been their play against divisional teams.
The Canucks are only 3-4-2 against Pacific Division rivals. Divisional play is even more important now because of the NHL realignment. The top three teams from each division make the playoffs, while the remaining fight for two wild card spots within their respective conference. Currently, the Canucks are fifth in the division and are four points off the final wild card spot. The reason for this poor record can be just a case of running into hot teams. The scores have been generally tight and they sometimes need that extra ounce of effort to win the game. However, times have gotten even harder for the club in the past 10 games.
The biggest problem during this time has been the ability to light the lamp. The Canucks cannot expect two to three goals a game from the top line night in and out, because that is simply impossible. The men in blue and green rely way too much on their big guns to produce. They need depth scoring. The Sharks have guys like Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard, the Ducks have players like Daniel Winnik, and the Coyotes have very balanced scoring top to bottom. This is why the teams mentioned average over three goals per game every night.
The lack of scoring can definitely be attributed to the new coaching style of John Tortorella. Torts is a guy that is undoubtedly a defence-first coach. He has transformed the mentality of the team drastically. The Canucks had come into the season as a team that was in the bottom half of the league for shot blocking. They are now in the top five, but have obviously sacrificed a lot offensively. They are 18th in the league in goals for per game, and have even scored less goals per game than the lowly Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Defensively, the Canucks are 13th in the league for goals against. Not bad, but still room to improve. Luckily, they have not had problems with Roberto Luongo. “Lu” has been quietly playing solid, with a GAA of 2.30. The Canucks have confidence in Lu, so now they can solely focus on scoring.
I think the Canucks will continue their offensive struggles for the next month or so, but then they find their stride. The defence should bail the team out and should result in improving the team’s record.
The best bet is that the Canucks end up in the bottom half of goals scored per game, but their Pacific Division cool off, resulting in some divisional wins for the men in blue and green. However, they do not lock up a top three spot in the Pacific Division and are forced to compete for a wild card position. If the team stays healthy and the Sedins continue to produce, the Canucks will end up squeaking in to the playoffs via a wild card position. Do not expect them to end up playing deep into the playoffs though, as they should succumb to a better and more physical hockey team.
In conclusion, the Vancouver Canucks are a good hockey team, but are simply overmatched in a high scoring, physical division like the Pacific Division. They should improve, but they will need personnel changes to the team if they want to be a force to be reckoned with.
Image: Shupac Photography/Flickr