With three regular season games under their collective belt, the Vancouver Canucks have a win, a regulation loss, and a ‘tie’ (overtime loss). Tonight during their swing through California, they rematch against the team that gave them the latter.
The Canucks travel to Los Angeles with their 40th anniversary home opener freshly spoiled by the visiting Kings. But whether revenge, or a somewhat restless fanbase is the motive, no one knows for sure. It’s not that the Canucks are having a poor start, but rather, it’s the heightened expectations for the club this season that might take it’s toll.
There are definitely positives to take out of their early record, including the fact that newly appointed captain Henrik Sedin appears to be adapting seemlessly to his new role. Another factor, perhaps equally as important, is that after surrendering the captaincy, Roberto Luongo hasn’t allowed it to impact his performance negatively. Traditionally, Luongo starts slow and finds his rhythm in later November, but stopped 72 of his first 74 shots, and doesn’t appear phazed by the role-change.
Analysts from the Team 1040 radio station spoke after the loss to the Ducks about the importance of picking up points during this “easier” section of the schedule. With the Canucks top line garnering most of the points thus far, the pressure is mounting for Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, both of whom had career seasons last year. Ryan Kesler, who had 25 goals and 50 assists, deflected any negativity that might pervade their early drought. “We’re getting Grade A scoring chances. It’s just a matter of time before they start going in.” Kesler received a promotion to the 1st powerplay unit with the twins. “We’re still getting a lot of chances. That’s the important thing.”
The Canucks continue to search for their fourth line identity, and are still trying different combinations to that end. Center Rick Rypien became the third pivot in as many games, replacing Jeff Tambellini, who only lasted one game in relief of incumbent Alex Bolduc, who is out with a high ankle sprain. Though Rypien is better adapted to a grinding fourth line role, he still isn’t a natural center, and his failures in the faceoff circle ended the experiment last season to convert him. Jeff Tambellini hasn’t fared much better, so the team might look to either Cody Hodgson, Mario Bliznak or Joel Perrault from Manitoba. With Hodgson or Bliznak, the Canucks would again be calling on inexperienced players to fill the void, making the cut of Brendan Morrison that much more curious.
The Canucks expect a similar tight checking game against the Kings (2-1-0), based on their season opener. If their playoff matchup indicated anything, it’s their uncanny resemblance to the Canucks, from team structure to player development. The main difference, not just this year but in general, are the expectations placed upon the teams. In a market dominated by NBA basketball and baseball, the Kings don’t occupy the same sort of limelight that the Canucks do. It makes for an interesting case study between the weight of expectations on a professional team and results from such pressure. At the end of the season, don’t be surprised if we see further startling similarities drawn between not only the Los Angeles Kings’ ability, but also their point totals in relation to the Vancouver Canucks. While it is early in the season, one can’t help but wonder if tonight we’re witnessing a fore-gleam of another potential early playoff match-up.