Easy to say the day after a dramatic, exciting overtime comeback win, perhaps. Still, the Vancouver Canucks fans have plenty of reason to look forward to the rest of the season. Whether they want to believe it or not is another question.
Canucks Aren’t As Bad As Fans Think Are
Stumble Out the Gate
There was an extended road trip to start the year, but at least three wins on it. Easy marks Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and Chicago Blackhawks were guaranteed wins. Closing with the Seattle Kraken was… well, a maybe. Yeah, the Vegas Golden Knights really messed us up for predicting expansion teams. Come back home at .500 and it’s fine. Playoff teams need that mark on the road anyway. Heck, with a bit of puck-luck they could open the season with five road wins. Huzzah!
Cue yet more drama.
Someone has to make up for the PNE Coaster not running, and it’s the Canucks fans. A sloppy game against a shaky Carter Hart got Vancouver into the win column, and not much more. Losses to Detroit and Buffalo set off alarm bells at home. And it’s not just that they lost, but how. The team looked listless. Disinterested. Or, at best, confused, especially in the offensive end. Conor Garland was putting on a show, and Thatcher Demko was full value, but everyone else?
The Upside Down
The team salvaged their trip with two decisive wins, coming home with a 3-2-1 record. Now that they were home, the Canucks fans could cheer their team on in person. Garland was becoming a legend, between his agitation of opponents and his ability to strike a pose. Everything would be fine. Those three road wins might not have been against who was expected, but at least they were won. Now there were tougher teams coming in, but home ice is where you want to meet them. The first home game since The Before Time was going to be HUGE!
Well, maybe the second would. Third? Hm. From a modest high of a fairly successful road trip to three straight one-goal home losses, you could feel the whetstones coming out. Fan patience is in a much shorter supply this season. It’s a high-risk, high-reward year for the management group. The difference between cheers and howls is as narrow as it’s ever been at Rogers Arena.
It’s not just that the Canucks lost. Once again, it was how they lost. The good news – hang on to this bit, fans – was that they were playing better. Defensively, at least, they were playing better. Not great or anything, but middle-of-the-pack well, and that’s a big step up from last season. Unfortunately, the offence seems to have dried up, and that combination makes for some pretty blah viewing.
When Playing Safe Isn’t
One feature of Travis Green‘s teams up to this point has been their push to win. Whether the talent was available or not, the team was looking for opportunities to score all the time. That obviously hasn’t always produced the best results, and it can be argued that a more cautious approach would have done better. Well, sure, but would they have been as fun to watch? The answer is the 2021-22 season.
Canucks fans are looking at a team that has been told to slow down a step and look both ways before crossing the street. And that has in fact helped their overall defence. But the hope was also that the offence would keep the pace up at the same time. And that is where there’s hope.
Do Call It A Comeback
The Canucks let it all hang out in the third period against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. At the end of two periods, despite playing a good game, they remained snakebit, unable to get a single goal against Igor Shesterkin. Special teams were murdering Vancouver, leaving them 0-for-6 on the power play. The Rangers scoring twice on their chances – including on a Too Many Men call, which has plagued the team – was salt in the wound. The Canucks had yet to spend a second with the lead in their four home games.
The Canucks fans were unhappy. Yes, it was the best the team had yet played, but a smattering of boos escorted the team off the ice at the second intermission. Five of the past six seasons have been about moral victories and they didn’t impress. What happened next was a bit of the ridiculousness that’s been missing this year.
J.T. Miller, having arguably his worst game as a Vancouver Canuck, scored. Podkolzin got his second of the season. Demko killed an extended penalty – and a 3-on-5 – with one hand behind his back AND a scorpion kick save. They got it to overtime, where Miller lost his man but won the game.
It was an utterly ludicrous sequence – and third period – that Canucks fans had no reason to expect. And it just might turn the year around.
Their two best goal scorers – Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser – are well below their normal shooting percentage. Those should return to normal at some point. Vasily Podkolzin looks like he’s acclimating well to North America, having his best NHL game against the Rangers. The penalty kill is missing its two most important pieces but will get Tyler Motte back soon.
And while Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been rock solid for the club, they need more. That’s Travis Hamonic returning to the club far earlier than expected. If he takes last year’s spot beside Quinn Hughes, that lets Tucker Poolman slip back down the lineup where he should be. And again his presence will help the miserable penalty kill stabilize itself.
And it can be as simple as that. Indeed, it should be. A small improvement in the penalty kill and normalization of shooting percentages will be enough to turn one-goal losses into wins. And both of those look very attainable.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images