It feels like forever since the Vancouver Canucks have played hockey but they will get back to playing games soon as they head on a five-game road trip.
The Canucks were supposed to play at home on January 5 against the New York Islanders and January 8 against the Ottawa Senators but those games were postponed due to the capacity restrictions.
“We want to play hockey. We can’t let this discourage us,” said Bo Horvat shortly after it was announced the game against the Senators was postponed. “Keep practicing, keep our legs under us, and get ready for the road trip.”
With all the practicing over the past week, it seems Bruce Boudreau got himself his own training camp with the Canucks. Oliver Ekman-Larsson sure feels that way.
“It feels like training camp again,” said Ekman-Larsson after Saturday’s practice. ” I think it’s good that we get to work on some stuff. Bruce hasn’t been here for long so we can work on some system stuff.”
Since Boudreau arrived, the Canucks the schedule has been light for the Canucks as but it gets tougher from this point forward. According to Powerrankingsguru.com, Vancouver has the toughest remaining schedule out of all the 32 NHL teams.
The Canucks also have been getting help on the out-of-town scoreboard during their break. Teams that are ahead of them in the Pacific Division have faltered a bit. The Edmonton Oilers have gone 2-6-2 in their last ten games and Dave Tippett is on the hot seat. The Calgary Flames have gone 3-6-1 in their last ten, while the Anaheim Ducks have cooled off after their hot start going 4-4-2 in their last ten.
Vancouver is four points back of the final wild-card spot. The Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks are tied for the final spot with 39 points.
The Canucks upcoming road trip is a chance to prove that the last few weeks aren’t just a fluke and they can compete with the best teams in the league. Speaking of good teams, the Canucks’ five opponents on their road trip are all in the top ten in the NHL standings at the time of this writing.
The Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes are up next on the schedule and they are in the top three in the league. The Panthers and Lightning are tied for the number one spot in the NHL with 51 points. Florida has been led by a Sergei Bobrovsky resurgence while the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions have got a boost with Nikita Kucherov returning to the lineup this past week.
The Hurricanes are right behind them with 50 points. Carolina leads the league in goal differential, points percentage and fewest goals per game according to Sara Civian of The Athletic.
Vancouver and Carolina already met once this season with the Canucks winning 2-1 at home.
The Washington Capitals and the Nashville Predators are the final two on the road trip and Alex Ovechkin is second in the league in goals and third in points even at the age of 36 while the Predators have been a surprise this season being led by Jusse Saros. Nashville currently is leading the Central Division. The Canucks lost to the Predators 3-2 at Rogers Arena on November 5.
For the Canucks, it’s going to be a big test. If they are serious about making the playoffs, they have to do well on this road trip. They need to show that the rest and all that practice time benefited. At the end of this road trip, we could be talking about how the playoffs are starting to look more possible for the Canucks or how they crashed back to reality.
The Canucks have improved their special teams, scored more goals, looked aggressive on the forecheck and have had stellar goaltending from Thatcher Demko over the last month and they need to amplify their game up to a thousand against the likes of Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
It’s going to be tough but it’s up to the Canucks themselves to prove they can go up against the best teams in the league.