C-Mac’s Report Card
I teach…therefore I grade. Gear up for the ride Vancouver Canucks fans.
The New Jersey Devils are named after a supposed legendary creature that inhabits the desolate Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
However, the Canucks team that rolled through the state last Friday night, dumping the host Devils, has been an even greater road beast this season, seeing as they hold the finest away record in the league.
The fact that they were able to grind out this win less than 24 hours after leaving Detroit (a 761 km flight to Newark) reveals their determination and resolve to get back to their second consecutive final, in the midst of a particularly grueling trip.
Although the Dallas encounter didn’t go as well, with the team appearing understandably jet lagged and burdened late in the third with a very fortunate icing call, the Canucks still managed another road point, followed by yet one more with the game in Phoenix to end the trip.
With 18 games left to go until the real action begins, Vancouver has begun to truly assert itself as a difficult team to break down.
Top 3 Developments to love about the Canucks
1. The evolution of Alain Vigneault’s coaching. He is frequently on the end of a lot of criticism with one of the most impatient fan bases in all of sports but he has not been afraid to shake up his methods when required this season.
Three things stand out in particular: his new found resolve to shake up the lines when things are going poorly; the judicious juggling of time for players to keep them rested; and his effective use of situational tactics such as taking advantage of using Manny Malhotra almost exclusively for defensive zone face-offs, while Henrik and Kesler are able to control those face-offs in the offensive areas of the ice.
2. Mike Gillis’ understanding of the Canucks’ roster situation including his adept maneuvering under the limitations of the salary cap, and his willingness to take a calculated risk (unlike many of his more cautious GM brethren).
3. The team’s ability to grind out points and results even while they have not played at their best. You always get the feeling they can still step up another gear.
Top 3 Concerns about the Canucks
1. Though they are handling adversity well now, how will the team cope with it when the refs pocket their whistles again during the playoffs (and how it will impact the team’s flowing offensive style)?
2. Will the new acquisitions of Zack Kassian, Sami Pahlsson and Marc-Andre Gragnani settle in soon enough to become fully productive?
3. Will the hearts of Canucks fans be able to handle all this drama and excitement?
Top Goalie: Too tough to single one out right now. Schneids stood out in the early going as Roberto Luongo searched for his game, while Louuuuuuuuuuu has been stellar since just before Christmas.
Right now, with AV’s game to game planning, both backstops are keeping this team near the top of the heap.
Top Defenceman: Various blue liners have held the fort this year, but right now I really like Sami Salo’s game. He leads the defencemen in goals, despite playing 11 games fewer, and his calm, sound positional work mentors the rest of the back liners.
Top Left Winger: Daniel Sedin and his team leading goal total command this position as they have all year. Daniel is the trigger that makes the offence pop.
Top Centre: Ryan Kesler’s goal scoring form has roared back and his plus/minus has soared to +16, putting him on track to restoring the beast mode of the opening playoff rounds last season.
Top Right Winger: David Booth has reached a greater comfort level with his teammates and his strength on the puck has been impressive. Those power moves out of the corners and off the wing put fear into opposition defenders.
Mike Gillis is never satisfied with his lengthening list of achievements. You certainly may not always agree with him (heavily evidenced by the avalanche of outrage at the loss of Hodgson, apparently every Vancouverite’s favourite apple-cheeked neighbourhood kid), but you have to admire his dedication to the cause.
Gillis has made his move and the team has the time and motivation to utilize the gifts he has given them.
We are about to embark on another heck of a ride down the stretch run.