When you consider the funk the Canucks were in after a 6-2 loss in Minnesota a week ago, it’s pretty much a Christmas miracle that they head into their brief break on a 2-0-1 run after Tuesday night’s 2-1 win in Tampa Bay.
A week earlier had to be the low-point of the first half of the season when the Canucks were simply no match for the Wild. The talk coming out of that game was would Willie Desjardins make it to Christmas? Well, the coach is still behind the bench although his Canucks are by no means out of the woods. But as a group, the Canucks can enjoy their turkey and trimmings feeling better about where they are right now compared to where they were just one week earlier.
It’s hard to imagine there will be a more bizarre game the rest of the way for the Canucks this season. At the tail end of another long road trip, perhaps distracted by visions of the holiday break ahead, the last thing the Canucks needed was to spend 18:10 of the game short-handed. But that’s how it played out with a steady stream of Canucks heading to the penalty box right down to final whistle. Just look at the left-hand side of this crazy box score:
But from the game emerged a couple of heroic tales:
Alex Edler played 10:33 of the third period while Chris Tanev logged 10:20 in that final frame — both defensemen were forced to play 5:45 of it short-handed. And up front, Bo Horvat, who had another solid outing, played 8:22 of the third with 5:19 of that on the penalty kill. That’s solid stuff. It’ll be interesting to see if Tanev is able to shake off the blocked shot at the buzzer that had him hobbling while his teammates celebrated the win. He seemed to be in rough shape minutes later when TV cameras caught him still in considerable pain outside the Canucks locker room.
You have to feel good for Jacob Markstrom. The guy gets next to no goal-support, but made the most of a third period lead for just his second win of the season. His lunging right pad stop on Steven Stamkos in the first minute of the third was a game-saver and will likely be in the conversation for Canucks plays of the year.
Any Canuck highlight reel this year is going to be dominated by Daniel Sedin and Tuesday night’s goal — his 16th of the season — was yet the latest example of the kind of goal he simply hasn’t scored the last couple of seasons. That was high heat on Ben Bishop. Daniel leaned into a slap shot that I wasn’t sure he still possessed and he absolutely ripped it top corner. It really has been something special to see the resurgence of Daniel Sedin the goal-scorer. In his career-best 41-goal season of 2010-11, Daniel had 18 goals at the Christmas break, so he’s not far off the pace of his best statistical season. Now, I don’t for a second see Daniel getting to 40 this season. But 30-35 is very much in the conversation which is pretty impressive for a guy who had to hustle down the stretch last April just to reach 20.
It’s interesting with Daniel because he had the one incredible season in which he scored 41 and added 63 assists to win the NHL scoring title with 104 points. Other than that, his next best season was 85 points (albeit in 63 games in 2009-10). He’s sitting with 36 points in 36 games at the break. In terms of hard numbers, Daniel Sedin could be on his way to his second highest point total in 15 National Hockey League seasons. At the age of 35. Can he continue on the point-a-game pace after Christmas and find a way to add a few more along the way? It’s a pretty big ask, but given the way he’s performed in the first three months of this season, I’m not sure I’d bet against him.
And just for fun, look where Daniel was at this time last year. While you’re at it take a look at the entire team’s scoring at the Christmas break one year ago (keep in mind that team had played three fewer games):
The things that jump out at me are Daniel’s goal total, Vrbata’s numbers (in 31 games), I had forgotten that Brad Richardson had a sneaky good first half last year, Chris Higgins and Linden Vey contributed and Ryan Miller had 18 wins at this point a season ago. That was then, this is a new team, but I always like to see where guys were at different stages of the previous season as I gauge their progress or struggles the following year.
I seem to put a note in each of these blog posts about Alex Biega. And here’s another: I liked the way he jumped up into the play on the opening goal last night getting the puck to Radim Vrbata who then set-up Sven Baertschi for yet another goal. Offense from the back-end has been an issue for the Canucks, but in the past 10 games Biega is second to Alex Edler in terms of point production from blueliners. Now, he’s second with a remarkably modest total of two points, so this isn’t to declare Alex Biega a late contender for the Norris Trophy. But again, he’s finding ways to contribute and with Dan Hamhuis and Lucas Sbisa still on the shelf, Biega continues to give the Canucks serviceable minutes on the second pairing with Matt Bartkowski and may give the coaching staff something to think about if/when the Canucks get a full compliment of healthy defenders to choose from.
I had somebody on Twitter ask me about the Canucks record with certain players out of the line-up this season. So I did a little number crunching. Now, hockey is a team game, so the club’s record with our without certain individuals can be misleading and obviously the more players out of the line-up at the same time is going to affect such numbers. But these are the facts:
Brandon Sutter: 7-4-5 with him (6-10-4 without)
Luca Sbisa:7-5-6 with (6-9-3 without)
Chris Higgins: 6-11-4 with (7-3-5 without)
Dan Hamhuis: 9-11-7 with (4-3-2 without)
The Canucks could use a little good news on the injury front heading into the new year although it sounded yesterday as though Sbisa and Sutter could be a while yet and obviously Hamhuis is only a couple of weeks into a two month recovery. So what you see is likely what you’re going to get from the Canucks in terms of available bodies for the foreseeable future unless Jim Benning gets busy coming out of the Christmas break.
Next up a four-game run against Pacific Division opponents Edmonton, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Arizona — all on home ice — starting on Boxing Day. All of those teams have games in hand on the Canucks, but as things stand right here, right now, the Vancouver Canucks head into their break with a little momentum and a playoff spot. Those are two things I didn’t see coming after the way this most-recent road trip began.
As the title told you, this will be my final blog post before Christmas. It’s been an eventful past month or so for me, but one that has put things in perspective. I may not have a job right now, but I do have my family and I do have my health. So I have plenty to be thankful for over the holiday season. And your support of this blog and all of your kind words over the past month have meant so much more than you can possibly imagine.
Hockey brings us all together in a space like this one and I love sharing my thoughts and engaging in discussions about the Canucks whether it’s here or on Twitter. And I thank you for all of the interactions over the past year. All the best to you and your families.