So much for meaningful games in March.
That’s what the Canucks were preaching earlier in the season – to play games in March that mattered. After three years of being basement dwellers in the home stretch – the team has the worst cumulative record in the last four seasons – this organization was hoping to at least a push for the playoffs in 2019. That dream was still alive and well as the calendar flipped to February.
Yet after just one game so far this month – a soul-crushing loss against the Vegas Golden Knights in which they were outshot 48-19 – the dream is now all but dead.
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The Canucks now sit eight points out of a playoff spot with 16 games to go.
Vancouver is actually closer to the bottom of the conference now, sitting just seven points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. It’s a familiar position for this team, who have entered March like a lamb in the last three seasons.
As you’d expect from a bottom-feeder, March hasn’t been kind to the Canucks over the past three seasons. Here’s how they’ve fared since 2015-16.
The wheels fall off
2015-16: 3-11-1, 7 points, last in NHL
What happened: After leading the Canucks for most of the season, even the Sedins tailed off in March with nothing to play for. The twins had a combined nine points in 29 games, and Sven Baertschi led the team in scoring with seven points in 15 games. The team managed just 1.6 goals per game.
Case of the mumps
2016-17: 4-8-2, 10 points, 4th worst in NHL
What happened: Ahhh, the days where Jayson Megna, Drew Shore and Jack Skille would all draw into the lineup for the Canucks. Yes, the end of the Willie Desjardins days were bleak.
Although their four wins in March wasn’t worst in the NHL, they did have a league-worst 4-16-3 record from February 19th onwards, coinciding with a mumps outbreak in late February.
2017-18: 5-8-1, 11 points 7th worst in NHL
What happened: Compared to the last two seasons, Vancouver’s March 2018 performance was respectable. That’s not saying much as they finished with five wins in 14 games. They endured a seven-game losing streak early on but won five of seven games to close out the month.
Brock Boeser’s back injury was on everyone’s mind, but Jacob Markstrom was solid during the winning streak, allowing just five goals in four wins to end the month.
What to expect this year
If the past has taught us anything, it’s that the Canucks are bound to lose a bunch of games. They’ve lost at least six games in a row in March for the last three seasons, with a losing streak of nine straight occurring in 2015-16.
The Canucks have also been starved for goals in the month of March, and things appear to be heading that way for a fourth straight season. Elias Pettersson has one goal in his last 11 games, and Brock Boeser has none in his last six.
Still, they have been the team’s driving force offensively all season long. Combined, the three players have scored 40 goals since December 1. The rest of the team has scored a combined 57 goals, with 47 of those coming from forwards not named Pettersson, Horvat or Boeser.
This team was 11th in scoring at the end of November. They currently sit 26th overall in the league and are one of only three teams to score fewer than 100 goals since December 1 (the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks are the others).
Markstrom looks like he can stop pucks until his legs fall off, but that won’t matter much if this team fails to score goals.
Reason for optimism
While March has perennially been crushing for Canucks fans, here are some positives that could make you re-think the team’s chances of winning some games down the stretch.
The schedule is fairly kind to the Canucks this month. Just three of their final 13 games in March are against bona fide playoff teams (Toronto, Vegas, and Calgary). They also play three more games against bubble teams (Dallas twice and Columbus once).
The rest of their games should be considered winnable as they play Edmonton, the New York Rangers, New Jersey, Chicago, Ottawa, Anaheim, and Los Angeles.
Ten of Vancouver’s 13 games this month are also at home, where the Canucks have a more respectable 14-12-4 record (compared to 13-18-5 on the road).
The Canucks’ pitiful performance against the Golden Knights was an anomaly more than anything. They’ve won the scoring chance battle in six of their last 10 games. Even in recent losses to Arizona, the New York Islanders, and Colorado, the Canucks were even in the scoring chance department with the game tied, before ringing up the chances while playing from behind.
Even though March hasn’t been great for this team, this is a better squad than we’ve seen in recent seasons. That, coupled with a favourable schedule, might mean better results this year.