Christmas has come early for Vancouver Canucks fans. Of the team’s 11 games remaining in the month of December, eight are at home. This sets the stage for a high-wire Vancouver Canucks homestand that will surely be exciting, as the team looks to fight their way back into the top-three in the Pacific Division and rekindle the spark that launched them to a red-hot start to the year.
Fans Got a Vancouver Canucks Homestand for Christmas
Off The Road
Unpacking After a Trip
One thing Vancouver cannot be accused of is subtlety.
So far in 29 games, they’ve scored 5 or more goals a dozen times. They’ve given up that many five times. But for all that, twelve times games have still ended within a goal. In short, this year’s Canucks have been worth the price of a ticket.
They returned from the season’s longest road trip at their targeted three wins and three losses. A fair result if it didn’t include a game they had no right winning (against the Nashville Predators – again). No one expects a clean sweep on the road, but normally the idea is to play a more conservative game when you can’t get the matches, isn’t it? That’s not what 21 goals for and 22 goals against in six games says. Those are numbers that create premature baldness in coaches… and make them a blast to watch.
Coach Travis Green is going to look for a way to bring at least one of those numbers back to Earth. The month is an extended Canucks homestand, with ten of thirteen games in Vancouver. With the ability to match lines again, Green and assistant Nolan Baumgartner will take full advantage. Mostly.
Having a road trip ended with a home-and-home set on consecutive days effectively stretches it, so the REAL first game back was Alexandre Burrows‘ night. Both he and his two former teams were full value, with the Ottawa Senators losing by a much closer margin than a three-goal gap normally implies.
Still, the fans were entertained by a chased goaltender (the surprisingly solid Anders Nilsson), another mostly-good start from the Goalie of the Future(TM) Thatcher Demko, and the return of Burrows’ spiritual successor Antoine Roussel. Roussel later revealed that he targeted this game for his return specifically because of Burrows.
Roussel said Burrows took him “under his wing” during off-seasons in Montreal. They trained together and Roussel said Burrows became “the big brother I never had.”
That Roussel scored on his first shot, giving him a chance to salute his mentor, was gravy.
A Vancouver Canucks homestand doesn’t get much easier than this. 10 home games with three on the road? Only two back-to-back sets and one of those is San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights? Coming out of the month with fewer than eight wins would be a disappointment, and it’s been a long time since Canucks fans could (rationally) say that.
Best of all is the return of four veteran forwards from injury, possibly as soon as this weekend. Their combined absences have badly affected the opportunities the Canucks have given up. They’ve been delighted with their scoring, but goals against have dropped to middle-of-the-pack. So far Jacob Markstrom has bailed the Canucks out, but he and Demko wouldn’t mind cutting down the quality of chances they face.
There are still personnel decisions to be made, and for some players, Coach Green is going to be the Grinch.
Ups and Downs
Nikolay Goldobin has already been returned to the Utica Comets, leaving the waiver-exempt Zack MacEwen with the big club. That’s not just a death knell for Goldobin’s chances with Vancouver but a full orchestral accompaniment. MacEwen got his second point in his seven NHL games this year, so it’s not the production that keeps him up. What does is his 19 hits and 205 pounds – not something Goldobin will provide.
MacEwen won’t be staying long, not with so many other forwards getting ready to come back. Given how the road trip went and the demands placed on Bo Horvat to once again be Mister Everything, Green is looking forward to four pieces of his bottom-six coming back this month.
Ins and Outs
Jay Beagle could be ready to go as soon as Saturday. Micheal Ferland is in full-contact drills. Brandon Sutter is good to come of the long-term injured reserve list. Tyler Motte was expected to be out for four weeks as of four weeks ago. Foot injuries being what they are, he may be out a bit longer.
While Adam Gaudette has been producing, it has been with protected minutes. Still, he is no longer waiver exempt and would be immediately picked off the wires. He’s staying. So who else might come out? Loui Eriksson suddenly playing as he cares in the past few games are unlikely to spare him the bench. Tim Schaller started well, but he’s not been enough to stabilize the team defensively. Jake Virtanen has scored without any special team time, but his defence has always been weak. If the coach wants to use two attacking and two defending lines then Jake’s not likely to be on either.
But this isn’t mentioning the biggest, though least surprising, change: Alexander Edler is back on the injured reserve list, and may well be pushed into the LTIR for budget reasons.
The Regift That Keeps Giving
First thoughts from the off-season were that Edler could play less than half their games this year. After all, three new defencemen were brought in and a brilliant-looking rookie showed he was ready. He did average a full minute less this year, but remains the best all-around defender the team has. As always. Until he was injured. As always.
The difference this year is that there are players who can step up. Oscar Fantenberg was signed on for exactly this eventuality. Fans have been impatiently calling for Quinn Hughes to get first-pair ice time, and he has shown that he can play there in his rookie season. Depending on how long Edler is sidelined, this is Hughes’ chance to put pressure on Cale Makar. A strong month from this Canucks’ homestand can get the attention of Eastern Time Zone writers who often miss live games. Good boxcars – and advanced stats – gets attention.
If the Canucks miss the playoffs, as we predicted at the start of the year? Well, it’s easier to sell a rebuild to the fans when you’ve had a Calder nominee for three consecutive years.
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