THE FACT the Vancouver Canucks have stumbled out of the gates did not surprise me. I’ve been on record as saying the 2011-12 Canucks season will be defined not by the first 20 games of the season, but by the last 20.
So while I have not been particularly impressed by what I have seen with the Canucks so far this season, I have not been too concerned either. That might be about to change. The reason? Americans are eating turkey this weekend.
Ken Holland, the mastermind architect behind the Detroit Red Wings (and former Vancouver Canucks goalie!) has always said American Thanksgiving is an important benchmark in the NHL season. By that point not only should you have a good read on your team for the year. Also, your place in the standings at Thanksgiving is generally where you will be slotted for the rest of the season. You are either near the top, on the bubble or a long shot.
That’s bad news for the Canucks, who enter American Thanksgiving on the outside looking in. Heading into American Thanksgiving today the Canucks are in 11th place, even with Wednesday’s solid win over Colorado. If Holland is right – and he generally is – rather than fighting for top spot, the Canucks will be looking to make the playoffs this season.
Now the Canucks were not in great shape this time last year either, and they went on an incredible tear to coast to the President’s Trophy. In fact, on the Wednesday before American Thanksgiving 2010 they defeated Colorado and then won five of their next six and 18 of 22.
Can history will repeat itself? The fans – and perhaps the players themselves – are waiting for the Canucks to do the same this season. While they should play better as the season progresses, the Canucks better not think they will repeat last year’s amazing run. That was a 40-year franchise best stretch and it should not be assumed they can just do it again.
The Canucks are still capable of recovering this season and winning their division. But we are now entering the part of the season where Canucks fans should start getting concerned. If they go through to the new year playing the same indifferent hockey, making the playoffs will be a challenge. With 3 point games including single points for losing, gaining ground on the higher teams is tougher as the season moves along. Look at last year when New Jersey and Calgary had red hot late seasons runs but never could quite catch a playoff team.
The Canucks do not want to find themselves in that desperate situation. What they need to do now is find their game in the next 20 games or so, pass the Minnesota Wild as division leaders and then just worry about fine tuning their game to prime condition come April. Wins this weekend against Phoenix and San Jose would go a long ways to easing the concern.
- Mason Raymond is close to returning to the line up. Who coach Alain Vigneault chooses as the healthy scratch will be interesting. Likely 4th liners Aaron Volpatti and Dale Weise will alternate in and out. Perhaps Manny Malhotra will be rested, at least on the second half of back-to-back games? Cody Hodgson deserves to play. The other interesting option? David Booth. Booth has not impressed so far, and plays a very similar game as Raymond, therefor making the lineup transition seamless. But politics would suggest Vigneault would not likely bench the general manager’s $4.5M investment, no matter how poorly he continues to play.
- Alex Edler must lead the league in broken sticks. With NHL teams budgeting $250,000 or more for sticks, you would think the NHL would be demanding improvements in manufacturing. And if I’m a coach, I’d encourage defensemen and face-off men to carry a wooden stick on the rack for defending leads late in the game.
- It was nice to see Ryan Kesler get rewarded with the empty net goal. He’s struggled this season, but I thought he had his best game of the season against Colorado. Vancouver’s second quarter may really depend on his play.
- Congratulations to coach Alain Vigneault. With the win he became the Canucks all time leader in wins by the head coach with 247, surpassing Marc Crawford.
Joe Pelletier is a freelance hockey writer based in Terrace. Check out his website GreatestHockeyLegends.com and his new ebook at PucksOnTheNet.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @HockeyLegends