Well, it’s safe to say that this isn’t your Daddy’s Pacific Division…. or maybe just not your older brother’s Pacific Division. In any case, the Vancouver Canucks are up against it. Already. Before the 2013-2014 season, many critics had the Canucks grabbing the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Yes, let that sink in again, the National Hockey League has a Wild Card race (shiver). Growing up, I had absolutely no idea what the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets, or the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders, were doing racing for a Wild Card. Was it random? Had they earned the right to race for it? Did they play each other for it? Well, it took a while, but yours truly finally figured out what it meant. It makes sense, but it will still take a little while for hockey fans to get used to the idea. As of right now, those Wild Card spots might want to be league wide rather than split two per conference. The top 8 teams in the West each have more points than all but 3 teams in the East. Yikes!
But I digress. The Canucks were picked by and large to take the first Wild Card spot in the West. Well, they’ve dug themselves an early hole. Famous for slow Octobers and stellar play through November and December just to get back in the thick of things, the Canucks have found the new format rather unsavoury. That being said, if the old Northwest Division were still in existence, the Canucks would still be on the outside looking in. It’s not a nice place to be, but that’s where BC’s favourite team finds themselves.
As is usually the case, there has been widespread speculation as to why this is the case. “There isn’t enough talent”, “Torts was the wrong choice, he hasn’t done enough”, “they’re too old”, “the bounces haven’t gone their way”, blah blah blah. There are a couple glaring issues facing the Canucks at this point in the season. First of all, their powerplay is 25th in the NHL. That’s bad, but getting better. The only teams worse with the man advantage are Buffalo (actually tied as of December 6th), Carolina, Florida, Dallas, and Winnipeg. Those teams are not exactly the cream of the crop, so to speak. While some might say, “it’s a trade-off, their penalty kill is tops in the league”, it cannot be argued that the Canucks have impressive weapons like the Sedins, Kesler, Edler, Garrison, Burrows, Higgins, and more. With the top unit alone, the powerplay should be clicking at more than the pedestrian 14.1% it is as of right now. It may be looking up, as it was sitting at 11.5% not too long ago.
In their last 10 games, the Canucks are 4-3-3. This isn’t a great record over 10 games, but it’s 11 of a possible 20 points. Okay, so that’s pretty bad, but another reason the Canucks are outside of the playoffs (relex, it’s the end of November) is the majority of the teams in the Western Conference, and the Pacific Division in particular, have played lights out so far this season. Hoping that some of these teams come back to earth is not the way to go through a season, but one has to imagine that not all of those teams ahead of the Canucks can keep up such an impressive clip.
Generally, with shots on goal come goals. That hasn’t been the case with Vancouver. The only two teams ahead of them in the shots per game category are San Jose and Chicago respectfully. In the category of goals per game, Chicago ranks 1st overall, while the Sharks rank 3rd. The Canucks rank 18th. That has got to make the Canucks coaching staff shake their collective head. A combination of running into hot goalies, wasted shots, rebounds, and a lack of finish have set Vancouver back. If this shooting trend continues, I believe that the Canucks will start to convert on more of these chances. They have to, right? Right?!
In any case, the Canucks are in tough. Those that have complained regarding the lack of competition in the Northwest over the last number of years should be salivating at the opportunity to really put the play in playoff. If the West continues the dominant streak it is currently on and teams like St. Louis, San Jose, and Anaheim don’t come back down to the planet Earth, the Canucks could be hitting the links early this summer. Now, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I see the Canucks taking the first or second Wild Card spot and making a push over the second half of this season. Gone are the days of guaranteed appearances in the post season, but that might not be all that bad. Playing meaningful hockey down the stretch never hurt anyone. Remember this?