A refresher for those requiring one as the Vancouver Canucks get back to work Thursday night after a nine day layoff. The Canucks sputtered into the National Hockey League All-Star break with a pair of one-goal losses to Pittsburgh and Nashville. Those setbacks leave the Canucks with a record of 20-19-11 good for 51 points through their first 50 games. They sit tied for fourth in the Pacific Division two points back of third place Arizona, but it must be pointed out that the three teams the Canucks are chasing (Los Angeles, San Jose and Arizona along with the team they’re tied with Anaheim) all hold at least a game in hand on the Canucks. And as I’ve mentioned before — but it bears repeating — with just 16 regulation or overtime wins on the season, the Canucks are in a world of hurt when it comes to the first tie-breaker for playoff positioning. So as you read the standings the remainder of the way this season, it’s almost worth tacking on an extra point to the Canucks deficit in the playoff chase because they will have to finish ahead of teams to get the nod. A tie with any of those teams around them at the end of the season will do them no good based on their lack of ROWs.
I find year over year comparisons interesting to see where improvement has been made or where traction has been lost in Willie Desjardins’ second season behind the bench. In the Canucks case, they were 28-19-3 and had 59 points through 50 games one season ago. So that’s the same number of outright losses, but eight victories last season have become overtime or shootout losses this time around.
At this point in the schedule last season, the Canucks were 13-11-1 on home ice and 15-8-2 on the road. The home record has been a major disappointment this season. At 9-9-4 at Rogers Arena, the Canucks are the only Western Conference team without double-digit victories in front of their home fans so far this season. They’ve held their own on the road at 11-10-7, but their road point total is still off from this point last season.
The Canucks -17 goal differential is a massive concern for those who still feel this is a playoff team. Right now, among the 16 teams holding down playoff spots at the break Arizona at -15 has the worst goal differential with Detroit (-2) the only other team in the red but on the right side of the playoff bar. In 30 of their 50 games so far this season, the Canucks have scored two or fewer goals. They have scored twice in a game 17 times, once on eight occasions and have been shutout in five contests. Goals get harder to come by down the stretch and you just have to wonder how much offense the Canucks will generate the rest of the way — especially with a power play that has plummeted to 24th in the NHL (16.8%) and has not scored since a Radim Vrbata 5-on-3 goal in Washington six games ago.
At this time last season, Daniel and Henrik Sedin each had 42 points while Vrbata had 35 and Nick Bonino sat fourth in team scoring with 25. This season, Daniel leads the way with 44 followed by Henrik with 37, Jannik Hansen is up to 26 and Vrbata and Bo Horvat are tied for fourth with 22. Last season through 50 games, the Canucks had scored 131 goals as a team and had five goal scorers already in double-digits — this season as a group they’ve put up 118 goals and only three players have reached 10 or more.
And with that drop in production, it stands to reason that winning hockey games is that much more difficult. Last year at this time, Ryan Miller was an impressive 24-13-1 (49 points). This season he’s underwhelmed with a record of 11-14-7 (29 points).
I’ve stated my case for the record before: I just don’t have the appetite to watch the Canucks squeak into the playoffs only to struggle offensively and go meekly into the summer by being ousted in five or six games. And I’m a guy who loves playoff hockey and the excitement it generates. But I’d much rather see the team look to the future and forego a couple of home playoff dates this season and instead push to have the type of team that could win a round or two a year from now.
Right now with 51 points in 50 games, the Canucks are on pace to finish with 84 points. With San Jose (8-0-2) and Anaheim (7-3) heating up in their past 10 games and pushing the LA Kings in the Pacific, the Canucks are likely going to need 40 points from their final 32 games to make the playoffs. I just don’t see how that happens.
It’s February, the countdown is officially on to the trade deadline four Mondays from now and if the Canucks do the wise thing, this should be a fascinating month ahead. And I can’t wait to see what this team’s roster looks like on March 1st and beyond.
Thanks to the guys at The Province for providing a link to my recent blog on Chris Tanev in today’s The Morning Skate