The Vancouver Canucks upcoming schedule might be a wake-up call for the team and fans. Or it will reaffirm their status as a playoff contender. Either way, what it won’t be is easy.
Vancouver Canucks Schedule Gets Serious
The story coming out of Vancouver has been all about their dramatic turnaround since hiring Bruce Boudreau. There was a lot more to it than a single change, of course, but the entire event is well embodied by the new coach. Boudreau is seen as a “player’s coach” and his amiable personality is a marked difference from the more cerebral Travis Green. The change at the top can’t be understated, either. Jim Benning‘s removal gives the team a clean slate for their future direction.
Jim Rutherford has already talked about his interest in winning another Stanley Cup, and given his contract? That’s likely his goal in the next couple of years. He’s mentioned needing draft picks and young players, too, but his focus is on a Cup, not a rebuild. And why not? An 8-0-1 start over the past month means the Canucks are in the playoffs, right? Well…
Don’t get us wrong, now: optimism is a great thing. Players are only human after all, and they respond to change just as much as fans do. Any player who told you that they didn’t pay attention to what their owner or management was doing or how the team was being reported on is simply lying. Even if they try ignoring the noise, their teammates are going to know. Pretending the past eight years didn’t happen or that they don’t know what the history here is just foolish.
Simply put, the team lost trust in their management. That affects their play on the ice. Whether it’s sustainable or not is almost irrelevant – it’s a new start for the team. Even if what we’re seeing is a reversion to expected norms, that’s still wildly different than what was happening under the previous regime.
Behold… THE FUTURE!
A few days ago we looked exclusively at the teams in the Canucks’ way in the Western Conference. And that is a big problem to overcome – nearly every team has games in hand and they need to pass at least four of them. Add that to what is going to be a wildly compressed schedule later and it’s looking tough. They should certainly end up closer to their projected finish than they were a month ago, but it won’t be easy. One month – and nine games – is a bit early to decide on Vancouver’s true trajectory this season.
So far acting general manager Rutherford hasn’t made any on-ice personnel decisions. That’s good. Actually seeing who is here and how they play before making deals is a good thing. But you KNOW he’s dying to pull that trigger, given his history. By the end of the month, he’ll have the information he needs. Any boost from the new coach should have worn off, giving everyone a better idea of their continuing play. But the Canucks upcoming schedule may give them all the information Rutherford needs. Assuming said “Canucks upcoming schedule” remains intact for at least two weeks, that is.
Nine games, no regulation losses, everything’s great, right? The power play is fixed, penalty killing has skyrocketed and, okay the chances have been about the same, but it wasn’t going to take much to get the team back on track anyway. We know no one wants to hear this, but those wins may just come with a caveat. That caveat is just how good teams are the Canucks beat on their way to a resurgence.
Ever since the disastrous December 4th match against the Pittsburgh Penguins – giving up a hat trick to Jake Guentzel, another two power-play goals against, outshot by a near 2-1 margin at home – Vancouver’s looked relieved. And it started right away in the next game at home to the Los Angeles Kings. A shutout with two power-play goals is a strong way to open a new chapter for any team. People can nitpick at the fact that the Kings had played the Edmonton Oilers the night before if they want. It was still a strong game, and a HUGE emotional lift for the team and the fans. They can also nitpick that Los Angeles was 10-9-4 at the time, so hardly a powerhouse. Still, this isn’t about the Kings. It’s about all of the teams the Canucks have beaten during their streak.
Los Angeles Kings (played in Edmonton the night before): 10-9-4
Boston Bruins (shootout win): 12-8-1
Winnipeg Jets (played in Seattle the night before, shootout win): 13-9-4
Carolina Hurricanes (played in Edmonton the night before): 19-6-1
Columbus Blue Jackets: 14-11-1
San Jose Sharks: 15-13-1
*Thirteen days later*
Anaheim Ducks (overtime): 17-9-6
Los Angeles Kings (overtime loss): 14-12-5
Seattle Kraken: 10-18-4
Ice Skating Uphill
All told, the Canucks have points in nine games, but only the Hurricanes were substantially better than .500 at the time. That’s still great, as Vancouver needs to beat the teams they’re expected to beat if they’re going to make the playoffs. They have a good chance of keeping the streak going with their next game at home against the 9-18-2 Ottawa Senators. After that, though, the team mostly leaves the friendly confines of the West. The Canucks upcoming schedule after the Senators includes five games on the road – and it’s one tough road. Here’s the Murderers’ Row with their records as of January 5th:
You, ah, may notice a small difference in the quality of the teams being faced. It’s good to talk up the NHL’s parity and say “there are no easy games” and all, but seriously? The “weakest” team on this road trip is headed up by the best goal scorer in league history. And Alex Ovechkin is probably going to break 50 goals again as a 36-year old. If the Canucks manage to get back to Vancouver with five or more points in those five games, THEN we can talk about the possibility of making the playoffs.
The Inevitable Caveat
If the team doesn’t do their record any favours during the trip – again, reaching .500 is a good result, here – it still tells us something. How they face their first adversity. What response it engenders. Who steps to the fore and who responds best. And if the trip is a disaster? Then the Canucks temporary general manager will have his excuse to make some moves.