The upcoming Vancouver Canucks homestand is their longest of the season – and they need it. We said earlier that Vancouver should be happy to return from the ridiculous five-games-and-7500-kilometres-in-eight-days road trip with a 2-3 record. As it happens they finished 2-2-1, but the weak ending left the team with a bitter taste.
Vancouver Canucks Homestand Starts After Limp Home
Wins against the San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders gave way to a shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. After getting shutout by the Boston Bruins in a listless game marked by a late hit on Elias Pettersson, coach Travis Green tore into the officiating against his All-Star forward.
If he was hoping to fire up a clearly exhausted team, it didn’t work. The Canucks started their last game of the trip giving up four goals to the Minnesota Wild, three in the first period. It was an uncharacteristically erratic game for Vancouver filled with a plethora of errors and two fights. Missed checks, missed passes, and a rare blooper from Jacob Markstrom ended the trip on a down note.
Fortunately, they will get every chance to turn things around with the Canucks homestand starting Saturday against the Calgary Flames.
A Tale of 31 Cities
Vancouver is, amazingly, still in good shape to make the playoffs. Even as they had their winning streak not just broken but forgotten, most of the teams chasing them also stumbled. The Vegas Golden Knights managed three wins in their last five games, but none of the other three top teams in the Pacific division could do better.
While the margin at the top of the division is just two points, fans in Vancouver are happy just to be in the playoff discussion. The team has the luxury of low expectations: making the playoffs this year is enough. But if they want to make some noise when they get there, the road record will have to improve. The team is nine games over .500 at home at 17-5-3 and a much worse 13-15-2 on the road. They’ve got ten games left to bring that road record above that magic .500 mark.
Fortunately, there are no more excessive, coast-spanning trips on the schedule. But that’s an excuse that only holds up for one or two trips a season. The rest of their record is their fault alone, and it doesn’t look good. On the road, Vancouver has been outscored 102-85 compared to 63-91 at home. This Vancouver Canucks homestand is coming at just the right time.
The Chase is On
While it hasn’t hurt the Canucks yet, faltering now can catch up to them quickly. Any team out of the top three in the Pacific is in the reach of the Central division stragglers.
Both the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators have turned had a resurgence in otherwise bad years. They sit six and seven points back of Vancouver with games in hand. Each has picked up six wins in their last ten games, and over a shorter-term look even better. The Predators have four wins in five, including one over the then league-leading Washington Capitals. The Blackhawks’ last game was an overtime loss against the currently league-leading Bruins. Doesn’t sound like much to brag about except the Canucks just got soundly beaten by those same Bruins.
Then there’s the Winnipeg Jets who may suddenly find themselves able to fill a gap on their team. They started the year with a decimated defence corps, but Dustin Byfuglien‘s strange saga crippled their ability to replace or rebuild it. Having his cap space available before the trade deadline hits will give them sudden flexibility to take on contracts. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has navigated that, free-agent losses, and lengthy, important injuries to keep them close. That his team is just six points back of Vancouver is frankly astounding, and them having a late-season windfall means they’re all the more dangerous.
Owning the House
To find a hint of optimism, even if the Canucks fail to hit their mark for the road they still might finish on top of the division. They’re 11-5-1 against their own division and have 12 games left against them. They have to like those odds. Even if the team can’t win every remaining game, all they have to do is win the right ones.
Or even just the ones at home. The season schedule has been a trying one early, but one benefit from a difficult start is an easier finish. They have sixteen games remaining at Rogers Arena in their last 27. If they can keep anything like their current record, another ten wins are expected. That alone would add twenty points to their current 65. Not enough to make the playoffs, but if they can add another ten points from the eleven road games? As little as 95 points should be enough to get to the playoffs in the Western Conference.
Their playoff push is going to be defined, for better or worse, with these six games of the latest Vancouver Canucks’ homestand. The first four games are going to overlap with Sedin Week, including the brothers’ jersey retirement on February 12. Should the Canucks win their first two games – against Calgary and Nashville – then the jersey retirement night would correspond with a chance to beat their all-time home win streak of eleven games, set in 2009. Even better, it would be against the Sedins’ long-time rival Blackhawks.
Planting the Flag
But that’s for history. For this season, the more interesting games might be the last two.
Game Five is against the Wild, the previous game of which had two fights. The first, very early in the game, was Jake Virtanen‘s third career fight and Jason Zucker‘s first. The next came between rookie Zack MacEwen and veteran Marcus Foligno. It’s a bit strange to picture a rivalry between these teams, but as the games turn harder, they may use it as a template for playoff readiness. Even if the teams don’t, their fans might.
Game Six, and the final one on the Canucks’ homestand, is a rematch against the Bruins. Eighteen days separating the games won’t be enough for the Canucks to forget that Matt Grzelcyk hit on Pettersson. The five games leading up to this match almost don’t matter. If the Canucks continue winning, they’ll be feeling their oats by the time Boston hits town. If the Vancouver Canucks homestand has gone badly, they’ll be looking to settle scores.
As strange as it sounds, Vancouver’s game of the year might come the week after they celebrate two of the best players to ever wear a Canucks jersey.