Vancouver Canucks Playoff Spot Is Possible
Let’s talk about who the Canucks playoff spot might – might – come at the expense of. We’ll just brush by the top four because that’s an awfully long stretch, even for dreamers. Maintaining the illusion of the possible is important for maintaining the illusion of hope, after all.
As of December 30 – pre-Los Angeles Kings game – the two teams the Canucks have played fewer games than are the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights are, let’s face it, exactly where everyone thought they’d be. Maybe not leading the conference, but certainly leading the division. They’re nine wins over .500 after 33 games played. And yes, that wording is important. Despite four losses in a row, the Minnesota Wild are still eight games over the .500 mark with two games in hand.
It’s a substantial list that can fairly be considered out of reach. The Colorado Avalanche, despite being in seventh place with 36 points, is further ahead of the Canucks than four points. Five games fewer than Vancouver means different things to different teams, but the Avalanche are sure to make some ground in them. Their +24 goal differential in 27 games speaks volumes. The St. Louis Blues are looking good with pre-season question marks around Vladimir Tarasenko and their goaltending answered. Kirill Kaprizov is in cruise control for Minnesota, completing a deadly line with Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello. The Wild’s defence has held up – as always – and they’ve earned their spot.
So, who else won’t Vancouver catch? The Calgary Flames is another team keeping the Canucks down. There’s a glimmer of hope here, though it’s hardly bright. Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar have flicked over to God Mode and have a combined .931 save percentage. It’s not a surprise to see Markstrom bounce back from last year, but the addition of Vladar and how well he’s doing in his first full season is a bonus. Their offence has been good, but no one’s really scoring at a surprising level except maybe defenceman Oliver Kylington. Both the offence and defence look sustainable. It’s possible the goaltending falters, but if Vladar keeps up his solid play Markstrom won’t get overworked – a problem in Vancouver. Calgary’s not the sexiest team in the Pacific, but they’re solid.
The Edmonton Oilers have two superstars and the best centre depth in the league. They’ve improved scoring depth, have another budding #1 defenceman coming around in Evan Bouchard, and are sitting six games over .500 right now. And they’ve only had starter Mike Smith for four games. Yes, they’re in the eighth spot in the conference right now, but dropping out of the playoffs completely? That seems unlikely. This is especially true if they make any kind of move to shore up their goaltending. Still, the Oilers function under the burden of missed expectations. We have seen that get to the team in one implosion after another. Just because that shouldn’t happen this year doesn’t mean it won’t.
Normally, if you’re looking at making the top-eight, third place isn’t where you aim. But Anaheim might be the key to a Vancouver Canucks playoff spot, despite being nine points up. So what makes us think they are vulnerable? Are you familiar with those sculptures that look… different… when you examine them more closely? The Ducks’ power play is over 25% and their penalty kill is over 85% right now. That should be enough to get them to the playoffs, but they are being led by Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras, and Sonny Milano? Really?
Zegras has been a delight to watch, no doubt. It’s great that Terry’s finding his game, but is he really a 45-goal scorer? Milano is two points away from a career-high. Maybe they keep this pace, but that’s a tough bet to make. Anthony Stolarz and John Gibson are holding the team aloft, no doubt, but they may have kept the team in long enough to coast rather than drop.
Maybe, Just Maybe
As for the Nashville Predators, Juuse Saros has returned to lights-out form. That’s great! Their leading scorer is Roman Josi, which normally would be unexpected but also bad news. Who the heck woke up their offence? All of a sudden, Mikael Granlund and Matt Duchene are brushing up against a point-a-game pace. Ryan Johansen has already passed last year’s 48-game totals. And the player everyone expected to be standing alone on the offence has missed a substantial amount of time. What was supposed to be the start of an ugly rebuild has become a Tough Guys remake. It’s hard to call it a mirage after 30 games, but does that mean it’s real? Their three top-scoring forwards reversing the past three seasons trajectory is hard to swallow. So… maybe there’s a correction on the way?
Getting There’s Half the Fun!
And that’s just the teams already in playoff spots. There are another four teams to hurdle to even get the chance of a Canucks playoff spot.
The Winnipeg Jets have one of the best goaltenders in the league and a new coach – and Vancouver is very familiar with what a change of voices can do for a team. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler have each lost time, but with them back the offence is considerable. The Kings are another one of the “How are they doing that?” teams. The answer is that their old guys are Dylan Thomas fans. James Reimer is doing ludicrous things – he still has a .928 save percentage despite this silliness – for a San Jose Sharks team that refuses to take their shoulders off the wheel.
As for the Dallas Stars, no one knows what they’re doing, including the Stars. The players who were supposed to lead the team in scoring have stumbled horribly. Joe Pavelski is setting up yet another 25-30 goal season while Jason Robertson continues to blow the doors off. The two goaltenders they didn’t know they were going to rely on – Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger – have been very good as the others fell to the wayside.
If it were just the teams in front of Vancouver in playoff spots it would be a hard slog. Unfortunately, they’re in the crab bucket with both Winnipeg and Dallas as well. Can the Canucks work their way into the second season? Sure. They have 50 games to make up ground in and are riding high right now. Is a Canucks playoff spot likely? Um. Why don’t we just enjoy the ride we’re on for now and worry about details later, okay? And if they don’t make it this season, maybe that’s not so bad.
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