The holidays are over, but will the good times continue on the Vancouver Canucks‘ road trip? All signs point to… Hey, are those flashing lights?
Tripping Crystal Balls
Before the season even started, a cold eye was turned to late November. That six-game Canucks road trip would be the indicator of their season. Finish it strong, and playoffs would be all but assured; do poorly, and surely doom would follow.
They ended the trip having scored five or more goals three times, given up five or more goals a couple of times, and finishing with three wins and three losses while playing every kind of game imaginable. It ends up that road trip didn’t predict anything.
Pretty much just like their season so far.
The Canucks were rewarded for their road-heavy November with ten home games in December. They pulled in eight wins for the month and are currently four games over .500. Even if they aren’t exactly comfortable in their playoff spot, they are at least on the inside looking out. It took another month to find them, but patterns have emerged after 40 games.
Speed Bumps and Stop Signs
Since starting the season with two road losses, the Vancouver Canuck’s road trips have broken even. But a record of 9-10-1 isn’t great and will have to improve if they want to reach the playoffs. As great as their current win streak has been, there are warning signs and potential detours ahead.
What You Want, When You Want It
It’s no secret that the Canucks have been leaning heavily on the deadly combination of Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser – J.T. Miller. But a large part of their emergence is lining them up against the right opponents. Coach Travis Green loves matching lines. Loves it to such a degree that some games will have checkers like Jay Beagle or Brandon Sutter with more ice time than Pettersson.
This is slightly insane at first glance, but there’s a method to his madness. With the last change at home, that first line can avoid the opponent’s best checkers. It’s not perfect, as teams now often use a select defence as well as forward match-up. Even so, the side benefit is a trickle-down effect: Vancouver has a half-dozen players scoring in double digits. Eleven different players have game-winning goals on 23 wins.
More to the point, their best players get the best results. Boeser has five more points at home than on the road. Pettersson has six more, and Miller ten. Opposing coaches know who they’re trying to stop.
The Old College Crash
Quinn Hughes has lived up to all expectations of him so far. He has transformed the Canucks attack and helped lead a resurgence for their power play. He’s on track to break the team scoring record for rookie defencemen that has stood for decades.
Many college players entering the NHL or AHL have only ever played 40-45 games in a season as an adult. Those players can slow down at around that point in their first year as a pro. Boeser scored 21 goals in his first 36 games as a rookie, then just 8 more in the last 26 before he was sidelined by injury.
Now, it’s hard to complain when your rookie forward scores 29 goals, and no one is going to call for Hughes to be sent down if he “only” gets another fifteen points over the next three months. But he has been playing a lot more hockey than originally planned, and that could take a toll. Then again, since he relies more on skill and positioning maybe there will be less wear than your average defenceman.
Clear Roads, Full Fuel
Still, sometimes a change is as good as a rest. Hopefully, they will take their newly-discovered ability to get the first goal on the road with them. It’s eight games in a row they’ve managed it now, and a major contributor to their win streak. They’ve only managed it six times on the road so far.
Who’s Driving This Thing?
The team captain might be looking forward to the Vancouver Canucks’ road trip. Despite the five points in his last two home games, Bo Horvat has six more goals and seven more points away than at home. Part of this is Green using him as a second checking centre against some teams. That explains the home scoring – or lack thereof. On the road, he’s looked on as a secondary threat, well behind Pettersson’s line. If this gives him weaker match-ups, coach Green isn’t going to complain.
Hit the Road, Jac(ob)
Another player the team won’t have to worry about is Jacob Markstrom. While his numbers are worse on the road, the difference is slight. His .914 save percentage and 2.80 goals against are not numbers to make the team nervous. That being said, he has yet to play this season against any of the teams scheduled. It’s a lot of distance and a short span of time, so Thatcher Demko is going to start at least one game, possibly two. Five games in eight days is rough, never mind doing it while travelling the 3,000 KM from Sunrise to Winnipeg.
Demko’s numbers are actually slightly better on the road than at home, but with such a small sample size you can’t really weight it. So far he’s been fine as a backup and there’s no reason to think that will change.
Sunshine to Darkness
…Or possibly vice-versa. The Vancouver Canucks’ road trip starts in sunny Florida, but against two of the hottest teams in the league. In theory, the games will get easier the farther North they go. Problem is, all the teams they face are neck-deep in playoff races, just like they are. Anyone thinking one of these cities is a rest stop can find themselves at the Bates Motel instead.