If you told Canucks fans before the season that on December 20 they’d be tied in points with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, they’d be pretty happy.
Heck, if you told them they would be three points back of the Calgary Flames with a game in hand for the last playoff spot in the West at this point in the year, they might take that too.
Instead, the last week has felt like a full-blown crisis for the Canucks, their fans, and media too.
The problem is not their spot in the standings — it’s the way they were trending.
Clearly four consecutive seasons of not only missing the playoffs but also being without hope come February can put people on edge.
So that’s why Chris Tanev’s overtime game-winning goal against Vegas on Thursday was so vitally important for the Canucks at this stage of the season.
To beat a team that always gives them trouble in that fashion allowed the city of Vancouver to exhale, if only for a moment. The win stopped a three-game losing streak, but it felt longer.
Horvat’s first big test as captain
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being the captain of an NHL team. That pressure is ramped up even more under the spotlight of a Canadian market.
But when you’re winning? It’s easy.
The hard part comes when your team is in a losing streak. That’s what Bo Horvat has had to deal with recently, his first real test as captain of the Canucks.
They are who we thought they were
Taking a look at the standings, I keep getting overcome with the same thought.
In the words of the late Dennis Green: “They are who we thought they were.”
At the very least, the Canucks are (to this point anyway) in the spot in the standings that I thought they’d be.
Making the playoffs is hard, and the Canucks are a bubble team: If everything goes right, they’ll make it in. But the competition will be fierce.
They’re currently as close to the bottom of the West as they are to the top of the Pacific — six points away from each. Their goal differential has come back down to Earth since October, but they still fare well in that category (+4).
Let’s just hope they’re at least in contention for a playoff spot come April.
There’s a pretty good chance the Canucks will send more than one player to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time in eight years (the Sedins and Alex Edler represented Vancouver in 2012).
Only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have more points than Elias Pettersson among players in the Pacific Division. He has to make it.
And on defence, how do you keep Quinn Hughes off the team? He’s currently tied for the Pacific Division lead among blueliners with Erik Karlsson, with 26 points in 35 games.
Not many teams get to send more than two players to All-Star Weekend, but statistically, Brock Boeser, JT Miller, and Jacob Markstrom also have a case.
If I had to pick the Pacific Division All-Star Team right now, given the recent injury to Darcy Kuemper, it would look like this:
- F: Connor McDavid (Edmonton)
- F: Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton)
- F: Elias Pettersson (Vancouver)
- F: Mark Stone (Vegas)
- F: Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary)
- F: Taylor Hall (Arizona)
- D: Quinn Hughes (Vancouver)
- D: Erik Karlsson (San Jose)
- D: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles)
- G: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas)
- G: John Gibson (Anaheim)
This year’s festivities will take place January 24-25 in St Louis.
The best elf
Speaking of Pettersson and Hughes, this photo with Santa at the team’s annual family skate was amazing.
Pettersson has been quietly brilliant
It’s been a different kind of season for Pettersson.
He had a spectacular start to his NHL career last year, wowing everyone in Vancouver with his amazing skill, before slowing down in the second half of the season.
But Pettersson hasn’t filled the highlight reel to the same degree to start this season, though that doesn’t mean he’s been less effective.
Quietly, Pettersson is 11th in NHL scoring, with 37 points in 36 games.
Pettersson’s second goal against the Golden Knights was a wicked wrist shot, but the first goal he scored might be even more encouraging to see.
Not only can he score high-skill goals, but against Vegas he also proved he can score dirty ones as well.
J.T. Miller redeems himself by taking the net puck to the net — Elias Pettersson banking in the rebound goal pic.twitter.com/jlOK7RjNGZ
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) December 20, 2019
Pettersson is bigger and stronger than last season, which has helped him not only fight through checks but also deliver a few hits as well.
For all you Edler haters
For all those Alex Edler haters out there — and yes, there are many — I hope you’ve noticed how much Vancouver’s defence is worse off without him in the lineup. They’ve given up 3.4 goals a game in nine contests without him.
Say what you will about the 33-year-old veteran, but he eats big minutes on the back end on a regular basis and there’s a reason for it.
Edler’s been out of the lineup since November 30, but he skated with the team at Thursday’s practice. They should get him back soon, and that will provide a big boost.