Vancouver Canucks Wins Hits Bump

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The Vancouver Canucks wins pointed uphill as they started a five-game road trip with two losses. Is it a crash back to Earth, or just a normal part of a long season?

Will the Real Vancouver Canucks Please Stand Up?

It’s an inevitable thing that Vancouver would have their Bruce Boudreau-inspired point streak broken. There were, after all, another 48 games to play after the New Year Day match against the Seattle Kraken. With COVID-19 delays and the team’s decision to postpone their Ottawa Senators match, there wasn’t much to talk about except the streak. And, of course, how it was going to get broken soon – specifically on this road trip.

So what’s the answer here? Let’s get binary!

Everything’s Normal

The Canucks dug themselves a hole early. That takes a lot of work to get out of – enough that going 8-0-1 didn’t even get them back to .500. But it got them a lot closer, which got fan interest back again. Sure, there was a huge amount of relief after half a decade of management stagnation. But if the product on the ice didn’t improve the Honeymoon Period would be brief.

And what a Honeymoon Period it was! But it was mostly against teams that a playoff team should be able to beat. The thing about one-goal wins – and losses – is that small changes during the games can make all the difference. It’s a little harder to separate luck from skill in some of those, and luck is a big factor in hockey. That Vancouver got (mostly) wins against an aggregate of teams who were 124-95-27 definitely involves some luck. They were only +12 in goals over nine games, and that’s not really “dominating” numbers.

But streaks happen. They can’t be relied on, though, as the Law of Large Numbers* takes over eventually. Losing to two of the best teams in the league after playing zero games in nine days can’t be a surprise. The Canucks played pretty well in those games even if they didn’t get the results they wanted.  They crossed the continent to play them, too! A combination of travelled and rusty isn’t giving the Canucks their best chance.

This Ain’t Good

Okay, so the Canucks played pretty well in Florida. Between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning came one day of recovery and travel. Before that was more than enough time for the new coach to “teach his systems” as some folks put it. The wins streak came on the back of adrenaline and a sigh of collective relief so big it could have been another El Niño. They played six games in ten days, so it was just a rush. That was great, but now that edge has worn off and we’re back to something like a regular schedule. So shouldn’t they be playing better than they were in December?

Vancouver got four goals in the two road games, and look who scored them: Jason Dickinson, Juho Lammikko, Matthew Highmore, and Tyler Motte. Motte leads the team with three points, Highmore, Lammikko, and Brad Hunt have two each. The only Canuck with more than four points to register on the scoreboard was Conor Garland. Getting depth scoring is great and all, but ideally it’s depth scoring.

The special teams bottomed out again, with the penalty kill giving up two goals in six chances and the power play getting blanked on seven. That’s where the talent at the top of the lineup has to take over – or at least take advantage – and it didn’t. It’s nice that Elias Pettersson played good defensive games, but the team needs results from their sputtering star. Getting some red light contributions from the blue line this season would be nice, too. Seven goals are the Canucks’ defence total. That ties Victor Hedman and is three short of Aaron Ekblad.

The Verdict

There is an argument to be made that the peninsular teams are simply better than the Canucks. Yes, it’s a reversion to the norm, but it’s exaggerated by the quality of the opponents they faced. Vancouver is coming off a ten-day layoff by travelling 4,600 kilometres to face two of the best teams in the league. Two losses? Well, bummer, but not a shock. The Vancouver Canucks wins weren’t going to last forever.

On the other side is an acknowledgement that the Canucks shouldn’t have been expected to win, which is a problem in itself. They can’t give themselves excuses for losses, especially since every team has travel woes. Vancouver frequently catches teams at the tail end of road trips out West. Their stars were silent, and when the bottom-six scores twice in a game the Canucks can’t afford not to win.

All told, a two-game course correction is no more the true direction of the Vancouver Canucks than the previous nine games were. But just because the playoffs are closer than they were 45 days ago doesn’t mean they’re close. Yes, they are within six points of the last playoff spot, but they also have five teams to hurdle. You can make whatever plans you want, but the opposition is going to have a say. And you can bet the Carolina Hurricanes are going to be real vocal after their 6-0 humiliation at home.

The Canucks could well come home to a new general manager and a whole new plan for the future. What that plan is might be determined this weekend.

*The closer a sample of numbers is to the representative population, the more they conform to reality. Yeah, it doesn’t really apply to human behaviours well, but you get the idea.

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