October 01 2009 09:38AM
The wait is finally over! It's game day, and the Canucks open up their campaign tonight in Calgary against the Flames.
Last season, the Canucks were not considered one of the elite teams of the league last season. They were a very good team, but not an elite team. However many pundits, like TSN and Sportsnet, have the Canucks winning the division and going for a deep run in the playoffs, possibly even to the Cup final.
So what do the Canucks need to do to improve over last season to become a truly elite team in the NHL this season? Here are the five keys areas they need to improve.
The Canucks were in the bottom five for total penalties last season, and it cost them. They need to be more disciplined, and stay out of the sin bin. There is no excuse for giving your opponent an unnecessary advantage. Shane O'Brien, specifically, needs to improve dramatically. If he can't control himself and stay out of the box, I'm sure AV will gladly and quickly swap him out for Aaron Rome or Brad Lukowich.
Given the Canucks lack of discipline, they need to improve their penalty killing. To be an elite team, they need to be a Top 10 PK team, not a middle-of-the-pack team. A fully healthy Luongo, and improved play from the defencemen when short-handed will help improve their penalty killing. The forwards, like Ryan Johnson, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler, did their jobs last year. The improvements the Canucks need to fall on D. The Canucks did not take any specific actions to address this in the off-season, so their improvements need to occur in practice, and staying out of the penalty box to start.
The main reason why the Canucks acquired Mathieu Schneider was to improve their Power Play dramatically. Just like the PK, to be considered an elite team, the Canucks need to improve their PP and get into the Top 10. With the acquisition of Schneider and Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Gillis clearly had two areas in mind on how to best improve his blue line - and the PP was one.
First Pass out of Defensive Zone
The other key area that Gillis addressed when he acquired Schneider and Ehrhoff was the first pass out of the defensive zone. There is no hard statistic for this key, but it was clear watching the Canucks last season that they struggled to move the puck up ice out of their zone to their forwards. Puck possession is one of the most important aspects of the game today. If the Canucks can move the puck quicker and more accurately up ice, and therefore avoid neutral-zone turnovers, they will be able to hold the puck longer and hopefully score more.
The Canucks had one of the worst Shots For vs. Shots Against ratios in the entire league last season. This is just simple - less shots against means less goals against. Once again, if the Canucks can be considered on the elite teams in the league, they need to take more shots than they allow. And they can quickly improve that by limited their shots against. If they can improve their discipline and their PK, this will help in dramatically reducing their shots against.
These are the five key areas I'll be watching for improvement this season. If the Canucks can improve these stats, they will be considered an elite team in NHL, and will be poised for a dramatic run at the Stanley Cup, starting in April.