Stars on Ice
Fourteen games into the John Tortorella era, the Vancouver Canucks are 9-4-1 — good for third in the Pacific Division and fifth in the Western Conference (if conference placing even means anything these days).
Throw out the San Jose games, and that weird one against Montreal, and the Canucks have exceeded expectations where their cast out comrades Alain Vigneault (4-7-0 and second last in their division) and Cory Schneider (just one win in six starts) haven’t.
Yet before we get ahead of ourselves and declare the decisions to bring in Tortorella and retain Roberto Luongo as the pinnacles of Mike Gillis’ career, let’s remember that dreaded phrase ‘sample size.’
As much as the Canucks have endured hardship in the form of injuries and that monster road trip, the season is still barely underway, and there’s one set of numbers that has me wondering if they can be sustained with success all the way through to April.
Those would be the ice-time numbers of the big three forwards: the Sedins and Ryan Kesler.
The trio has averaged more ice-time to date than any other forward not named Sidney Crosby.
So far, the results speak for themselves
Henrik Sedin leads the league in assists and sits fourth in the scoring race, and the three forwards have combined for 42 points in 14 games.
But here’s the rub; there’s a long grind of a season still ahead and neither of these guys have ever seen this much ice time over the course of a full year.
Kesler played all of 17 regular season games last year — a brief cameo appearance while his body attempted to finally recover from the spring of 2011. In the years before, he was hovering around the 20-minute mark.
The Sedins, meanwhile, played for years under Alain Vigneault’s zone start system, and were relatively sheltered in their minutes. Henrik won the Hart and Art Ross in 2010 despite being 38th in average ice time.
So the Sedins have seen the workload amped up at the tender age of 33. Who’s to say how their bodies respond over the course of the year? (Of course, being the genetic freaks they are, they’ll probably be fine).
For Tortorella, he probably has no choice this year but to find out the hard way. The Ry&Gingers are the vast majority of the offence in Vancouver.
In a month where David Booth and Zack Kassian failed to catch fire out of the gate, only the surprising Mike Santorelli bridges the scoring gap between the big three and the rest of the forward corps.
Whether he can sustain his pace is another matter entirely.
I’m not saying that this will all blow up in the Canucks’ faces, but you have to hope that Torts knows what he’s doing in regard to ice time and the burden of west coast travel. They’ve successfully navigated one road trip, but the legs are still relatively fresh.
How will they fare in January?