On paper I tend to agree that they have strengthened some areas of their team. Yes the team again sits atop the NHL standings. In fact they are basically on pace to match last year’s record breaking season. The Canucks are indeed well poised to make another run for the Stanley Cup.
But somehow this season there seems to be a little less hope this year. Maybe it’s because of the long odds any team faces of returning to the Final. Maybe it’s because the Western Conference has improved significantly. Maybe it’s just usual Canucks fans’ pessimism.
External factors aside, the biggest concern about the Vancouver Canucks has to be internal. Watching this team night in and night out leaves more to be desired this season than it did last. Last year everything seemed to roll along perfectly in the regular season. They dominated games, leading the league in practically every significant category. This year the team has gone through a lot more bumpy stretches, somehow winning the games in spite of it all.
It sure would be nice to see the Canucks polish up their game over the remaining weeks of the regular season. First and foremost that means finding line combinations that are clicking on all cylinders come April.
The scoring of the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows has tailed off significantly this season. The Sedins are on a point-a-game pace, well off their 100 point pace the last couple of years. Burrows is on pace for 28 goals, but just 52 points. With the majority of the remaining games at home and against weaker competition, the coaching staff has the perfect opportunity to revive their top trio. Then again, they may elect to reduce their minutes and rest them for the playoffs.
Of key concern, as it always is in Vancouver, is secondary scoring. David Booth and Ryan Kesler continue to show little chemistry. Both have been called out by coach Alain Vigneault this season. Regardless, these two are the 2nd line, even though they have poor chemistry together. They are too similar types of players, with both loving to rush the puck end to end. It seems one or the other can have a big game, but not on the same night. If they do not get untracked the Canucks will not be returning to the Stanley Cup final. It is safe to say the Canucks playoff fortunes really do rest on the shoulders of David Booth and especially Ryan Kesler.
Who plays on the right side with Booth and Kesler is a question mark. For now Vigneault insists on Mason Raymond, though the best fit has been Chris Higgins.
With the three Americans together, Raymond and Jannik Hansen can reunite on the third line. Hansen’s offensive breakout season stalled quickly and he has been quiet for far too long now. His best games came when playing with the equally speedy Raymond.
The fourth line on many nights could be line 3a. Max Lapierre with Manny Malhotra and Zack Kassian have shown some real promise as an imposing, physical line. Kassian is the real wild card here. Expect the Canucks to use Kassian on all four lines over the remainder of the regular season to see just what they have. Kassian, who has really impressed so far, will likely be used similarly in the playoffs, as a versatile swing man used in different situations depending on the circumstances.
If the Canucks hope for another long playoff run, their impressive depth needs to chip in with secondary scoring. But ultimately it is the core players Daniel, Henrik, Kesler and Booth who need to come through the most.