*cue the ominous music*
It’s More than Loui
Behind the happy, 8-3-1 facade lies something the team doesn’t talk about anymore. Something that is desperately ignored with smiling faces, but never goes away. That something is… $3 million of cap space coming off the long term injury list.
We’ve talked about it in detail a couple of times, but what the Canucks will actually do is unknown. ‘The Return of Antoine Roussel‘ is a sequel everyone but the cap managers are looking forward to. If it was a case of simply scratching players, it wouldn’t be all that frightening. There’s no question of pulling someone to get him in there. Loui Eriksson played well in his latest opportunity, so Micheal Ferland could sit down instead.
That’s not the only omnipresent threat the Canucks face, though…
The road looms large for November. They have ten games on the road and five at home. One of those home games is a single, effectively making it another road game. If they go into December looking like they barely survived a Cormac McCarthy novel, they’ll have a rough time.
Sure, December itself is going to be kind – only three away – but they have to be healthy to take advantage. So far, injuries to the Canucks have been minimal. That won’t last, and they know it. As always, the challenge is to get through the injuries with the depth you already have. The team has improved depth, but it is untested as yet.
That Distant Horizon
The Cancuks have also played a very easy schedule so far, gauged by the quality of opponents they’ve faced. Their losses have come against a top-ranked Edmonton Oilers team; the decidedly average Calgary Flames; the Metropolitan-leading Washington Capitals; and the awful New Jersey Devils. A mixed bag, at best.
Their victories, likewise, have come against teams that, at least in theory, they’re “supposed to beat.” Only two of their eight wins were against teams that are currently better than .500. The only back-to-back games were the usual New Jersey – New York Rangers set.
So never mind upcoming injuries or even the schedule: what’s going to happen when they play better teams?
The Pod Person
In recent years, the Canucks’ tricks included a slew of hopeful/desperate free agent signings. Of the numerous signings this year, most have fit in well with the team. Excepting Oscar Fantenberg who has yet to play, Ferland stands out from the crowd. The idea was for him to act as a protector for the team’s top scorers with enough skill to skate with them.
Pre-season predictions (ours included) had him written in ink beside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. That hasn’t worked out as hoped, and he was in the bottom-six before the month was half over. His production has been… adequate, which isn’t what a team looks for on their top line. And now he’s injured for an unknown amount of time after his first fight of the season. Given the pressure forwards are under for ice time, this could be more frightening for him than for the team, especially with Tyler Motte‘s return likely next week.
Vancouver’s top line has been exceptional. There was some concern that Calder trophy winner Pettersson would hit the so-called “sophomore slump” in year two. The closest he’s come so far was concern he wasn’t scoring as many goals as last year when he got ten in ten games. Increased pressure has simply let him elevate his passing game, scoring 14 assists in 12 games. Oh, and four goals as well. Just to keep defenders on their toes.
Since Pettersson and Boeser have been joined by J.T. Miller, the line has been one of the best in the league. They are getting over 62% of all shot attempts when they are on the ice, and 75% of the goals. It can be a concern when a team’s offensive talent is concentrated in a single line, but would you break them up?
Speaking of which, new captain Bo Horvat has been given his usual rotating wingers and come through shining. He’s lined up with nine different players so far in 12 games. This hasn’t helped his production, getting just one goal at even strength. On the other hand, he is still the guy you want out there protecting a lead, dominating the faceoff circle. And he leads the team with five power-play goals, so production’s there.
Speaking of which…
Before the October 30 game against the Kings, that same power-play went 9-for-45. Not bad, certainly, but given the talent available more than a 20% success rate was expected. One game later, they are over 25% and looking absolutely deadly. After managing just 43 goals all last year, it was an area of much-needed improvement. Moving Quinn Hughes, who had eight of his ten points with the extra man, to the first unit has helped.
The penalty kill has jumped as well, from slightly-above-average last year to top-five in the league. Another place where, oddly enough, Hughes has helped. Without needing to keep Alexander Edler on the first unit power-play, he and Chris Tanev can form a very good shut-down pair.
He’s Your Buddy
Hughes remained an extra year in university, and the time seems to have done him good. While obviously not the biggest player on the ice, playing against men did nothing to diminish his skills. His confidence and craftiness have been evident from Game One. He’s had arguably a single ‘bad’ game in his first dozen and has done nothing to diminish possible Calder talk.
The greatest of Canucks’ tricks they’ve ever pulled was convincing teams to leave Hughes for them at seventh overall…
It’s The End
There was no doubt that Jacob Markstrom would be able to reproduce his number from the past two seasons. There was some mild concern about how Thatcher Demko would fare in his first season, though. A big test came when Markstrom had to leave the team for a week, and Demko stepped up with three wins and a one-goal loss. After one month, he’s keeping company with Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask.
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