THE CANUCKS basically achieved the improbable this season by rivaling their record breaking regular season performance from a year ago.
For the second year in a row the Canucks sit atop the league’s regular season standings. The President’s Trophy championship is hockey’s most under-appreciated accomplishment. The best record in the NHL regular season two years in a row is an undeniable confirmation that this team is still arguably the favourite to win the Stanley Cup.
Yet at the same time there are serious concerns entering the 2012 post season, far more than there were at this time last year. There were a lot more bumps in the road this season, bumps that have hardly instilled Canucks fans with great expectations. In fact, last season’s sense of anticipation and expectation is not as notable this time around.
The defensive zone play has been at times brutal this season. The goaltending has been strong, though the goaltending controversy continues to threaten to erupt at any time. The Canucks power play has operated at 11 per cent since mid January, scoring just 14 goals. The secondary scoring is missing, which is not nearly as concerning as the fact that the primary scoring has, too.
The Sedins slumped badly at times this season. To make matters worse, Daniel, who leads the team with 30 goals, was put out of action with a concussion. He was back skating yesterday and it appears he will play in the first round versus the Los Angeles Kings.
It is tough to decide just what to make of these Canucks. The good news is the same can be said about pretty much all the teams in the west. Can Chicago’s goaltending hold up? What will be left of either Detroit or Nashville when they are done beating each other up in round one? Does St. Louis have the playoff experience to continue their amazing season? As much as I like the Predators’ team, I can not confidently pick any team over the rest as a favourite to come out of the west. I can say the Canucks have every bit as good a shot at winning the west as the other contenders.
The Canucks (51-22-9) will face the Los Angeles Kings (40-27-15) in round one, starting tomorrow. The Canucks may have finished 16 points ahead of the Kings in the regular season, but L.A. will be no easy task by any means.
The Kings have arguably the best goaltender in the league in Jonathan Quick, who led the league with 10 shutouts. The team’s defensive approach is suffocating, allowing the second fewest goals against in the entire league. Their penalty kill is stifling.
Coach Darryl Sutter will ensure the Kings play a feisty and physical brand of hockey, reminding some of the Boston Bruins approach against the Canucks. True, the Kings can not score goals, but they may not need to if Quick can steal them a couple of games. Expect the Kings to keep the games very tight, trying to win 2-1 or 1-0.
The Canucks were 2-2 in the four-game season series against the Kings, winning games by scores of 3-2 and 1-0.
Luongo played all four games against the Kings. Leading the charge was Daniel Sedin with 4 points. Henrik had just two assists, while Ryan Kesler had just one helper.
While Henrik has seemingly found his elite game at the right time, it is Kesler who needs to do the same now. For all the Sedins’ magic, it is Kesler who stirs the pot in Vancouver. He has never really found his pre-hip surgery game from last playoffs.
With seemingly no chemistry with linemate David Booth, the second line’s success – or lack there of – could be a big storyline.
Prediction: I will go ahead and predict the Canucks will defeat the Kings, in 7 games. They are the better team, but the Kings will prove to be a pesky bunch.
Check out Joe’s new ebook Pucks On The ‘Net