They are what we thought they were
The Vancouver Canucks played their 20th game on Sunday – unfortunately it was a loss to their new divisional rival’s the Anaheim Ducks – and are now somewhere in the neighbourhood of a quarter of the way through their season.
The Canucks sport a 11-7-2 record and have proven to be every bit the playoff bubble team everyone expected them to be.
Their status as a bubble team is more than anything a testament to the difficulty of playing in the West and in particular their Pacific Division. Vancouver’s 23 points would be good enough for second in the East, but alas, that’s not where they play.
To the Canucks credit, they’ve been on the receiving end of a lot more bad luck than good, and with October a thing of the past they are surely in line for better play from Roberto Luongo. It also won’t hurt for Vancouver to get some of it’s forwards back from the infirmary, as they’ve had to play much of this season without Jannik Hansen, Jordan Schroeder, Dale Weise and David Booth.
The good, the bad and ugly injuries are all explored as I delve into the data and look at what the Canucks do and don’t have going for them to this point in the season.
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Canucks have a half-way decent second line. Going as far back as nine games ago, when Vancouver played the Washington Capitals, Tortorella conjured up a second line with
Mike Santorelli being flanked by Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins and the results have been nothing short of amazing.
Their play in both the offensive and defensive zones has been a great relief for Canucks fans who have become all too accustomed to watching Ryan Kesler with spare part A and spare part B as a second line for the last two or so years.
Thanks to Dimitri Filipovic of Canucks Army, there are numbers to back up my claim, for the most part.
The impetus for creating this new look second line though was John Tortorella moving Kesler to the wing with the Sedins; in an attempt to create somewhat of a super line.
The move has paid serious dividends for the Canucks and has created match-up nightmares for the opposition. While Kesler has a Selke Trophy and a 41G season to his credit as a center, be it due to a lack of pass-worthy linemates or Kesler just being a puck-hog, he has never really been one to distribute the puck – at least not for a while, anyways.
Moving Kesler to the wing lets him focus a little more on the offensive side of things and let’s him do a lot more of what he does best: shoot. The move also seems to have sparked the Sedins, who are on pace for probably their best season’s offensively since 2010-11.
What’s most impressive about this, is that to this point in the season they are only starting about 35% of their shifts in the offensive zone, down from the 40% mark they were hovering around last year; all while playing the hardest minutes of anyone on the Canucks, no less.
Defensively it’s seemed like the Canucks have struggled to get on the same page at the same time, but that’s not to say it’s been all bad on the blueline. While playing in a much less appreciable role than some of his counterparts, simply enough can not be said of how well waiver wire pick-up Ryan Stanton has played.
If there’s one thing Stanton can’t do, at least can’t do very well, it’s put up points; but he more than makes up for that with his play in the defensive zone, where he is starting roughly 40% of his shifts. Stanton hasn’t had to play the toughest of competition, but as a bottom pairing defender, we really couldn’t ask for more from him.
Another bright spot for the Canucks has been the play of Dan Hamhuis, of late. In the early goings of the season I would have been hard pressed to find a Canucks defenceman who looked less comfortable in the new system than Hamhuis, but since then he’s returned to form and looked a lot more like, well, Dan Hamhuis.
The one crummy part about Hamhuis playing so well again is that he’s now the lone defenceman on the Canucks first powerplay unit, which makes no sense at all, but one would hope the coaching staff will fix that eventually…
Overall, things are going well in Vancouver. They have the league’s eighth best Fenwick (which is Corsi, sans the blocked shots) at evens with a 52.4% mark. Were it not for very stiff competition, a really low shooting percentage (around 8%) and a very long – albeit successful – road trip, I think the Canucks would have a much better record.
It’s almost impossible to start talking about the bad in Vancouver without mentioning their god-awful powerplay. Seriously, it’s gotten to the point where I’m sure they would respectfully decline opposition penalties if they could…
Right now the powerplay is scoring an abysmal 9.7% of the time, which is ranked third last in the league. Much of this has to do with bad luck, as the Canucks actually have the fourth most shots with the man advantage (106), despite having played the 16th most minutes on the powerplay.
Surely their league worst 4.7% shooting percentage with the man advantage has to change at some point, right?
Now, I’m no coach… not yet anyways, but maybe putting Jason Garrison and his limb-shattering shot back on the first unit would help. Hell, even if the pucks don’t go in he’s bound to injure at least one defender, giving the Canucks potential for a 5 on 3 with nearly every powerplay. Right?
Back to Garrison though, and his average at best play. It’s been a bit of a sore spot for the Canucks, as the expectation was that he and his howitzer from the point would act as a replacement for the departed Sami Salo.
He’s been victimized by a lot of bad luck and an unsustainably low shooting percentage this season, but beyond the lack of offense he generally looks lost out there.
I’ll have to prevent myself from getting carried away here, but he’s miles off from the impact defenceman I had hoped he would become under Tortorella. He’s getting about one minute more of powerplay time per 60 minutes, so who knows, maybe as the powerplay gets going so too will his offense.
More concerning than Garrison’s play however has been the state of the Canucks bottom six. If there’s one thing this team is lacking and lacking in a very large way, its reliable minutes from its bottom six group of forwards.
A lot of this has to do with the injuries to players like Dale Weise, David Booth and Jannik Hansen, but it’s still a point of concern. If the stars align and Booth is healthy for more than a week and can be paired with Hansen on the other wing, with Brad Richardson playing center, the Canucks might have a decent third line.
Until then, they’re really hard to watch.
While there are reasons abound for optimism that the third line can turn it around, the same can not be said of Vancouver’s fourth.
Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine that I would miss Dale Weise as much as I do right now, but that’s what over a month of Tom Sestito will do to a guy. Seriously, the fourth line is that bad. Right now Tortorella has them playing about five minutes a game, and so help me god they are the longest five minutes of every game.
If the Canucks ever get healthy this will of course have a trickle down effect and third liners like… Jeremy Welsh… will become fourth liners again. Hallelujah!
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDylanBurke