Is It April Yet?

Thomas Drance
January 23 2012 10:58AM

After Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders West, the Canucks will get a week off for All-Star break. While Hodgson, Edler and the twins fly to Ottawa to take part in the festivities, the rest of the team will rest up, fly to warmer climes for some sunshine, spend quality time with their families (or their goomahs), and prepare for the last 10 weeks of the regular season.

Fans should take this time to prepare mentally as well, because with only a few exceptions, there aren't a lot of "big games" to get excited before the start of the playoffs.

After the All-Star break, the Canucks will play 34 games. Those games break down like this:

  • 12 more games against Northwest Division opponents. The Canucks face the Avalanche (who have yet to score a goal against the Canucks this season) four more times, the Flames and Oilers three times a piece, and have two games remaining against the Minnesota Mild. Don't refill that sleeping pill prescription - the Northwest Division has you covered!
  • The Canucks play 13 likely snoozers against the likes of Montreal, Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus, New Jersey, Anaheim and Nashville. 
  • Vancouver's hockey club will play two games, in Vancouver, against Buffalo and Winnipeg. Those two games would be categorized as lame except for the fact that there's a narrative angle that is at least somewhat appealing.
  • There are 7 games to circle on the calender, and really look forward too in the 10 weeks after the All-Star break.

So is it April yet? I ask because the balance of the Canucks schedule looks about as exciting as an afternoon spent playing cribbage at the Legion. With that, let's take a look at the 9 most exciting post-All Star break games on the schedule. We'll need to savour them, so as to make it through the muck offered by the rest of the team's remaining schedule:

#9 Sabres @ Canucks - March 3rd

The Sabres are in the midst of a season that might accurately be described as a heap of stinking garbage. Ryan Miller has had his worst professional season in memory, the team's big offseason acquisitions are not contributing, and the rot is festering.

While their season has spiraled down the proverbial toilet, former Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has been out with an injury since mid-December. Assuming he's back in the Buffalo line-up for this game, then it should be worth watching.

I don't think any Canucks fans begrudged Ehrhoff's choice to maximize his value on the open market over the summer, and certainly he was an exciting player in his time in Vancouver. You have to feel for him, he could be in the midst of another successful season setting up a deep playoff run, but instead he lives in Buffalo now...

Regardless, it'll be fun to see him back on the ice at Rogers Arena, and I'd expect him to be warmly received by the Canucks faithful in attendance. Thanks to the potential presence of Christian Ehrhoff, and the fact that a game pitting Ryan Miller v. Roberto Luongo in Vancouver inspires some chest-thumping nostalgia, this game cracks the top-10.

#8 Jets @ Canucks - March 8th

Let's be totally honest, the game against the Jets shouldn't really crack the top-10, but, it does, because it'll be the first time the Canucks have played an NHL game against a team called the Winnipeg Jets since February 21st 1996.

Also, the presence of much-mocked, but secretly beloved former Canuck Kyle Wellwood, and local dudes Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane will add to the heightened interest in this match.

#7 Blackhawks @ Canucks - January 31st

It's a game against the Blackhawks, so it automatically cracks the top-9. Obviously, the team's don't like each other and are both going to be in the running for top-spot in the West until the bitter end. 

Despite losing the possession game, the Blackhawks flayed the Canucks in the team's last meeting at Rogers Arena. The game finished with a 5-1 score and it was probably Cory Schneider's worst game of the season. I'll be curious to see if the team gets Schneider into another game against the Blackhawks before the end of the regular season.

Another thing I'll be curious to see is whether or not Alain Vigneault switches it up, and puts Jannik Hansen back onto the Sedin line in the remaining games against Chicago. In the two previous meetings between the teams, Hansen and the Sedins have combined for two even-strength goals, both goals occurring when Dave Bolland was on the ice. I'm personally curious to see if the speed dimension Hansen brings to the Sedin line is something that the Blackhawks struggle to matchup with, or if the results in the team's first two meetings were mostly luck.

#6 Blues @ Canucks - March 1st

The Blues are one of the NHL's best five-on-five teams. They've defeated the Canucks twice, and netted themselves a possible five of six points from the team's three previous meetings this season. Clearly the Blues play the Canucks tough, and possess the sort of personnel (especially in ace defensive center David Backes) to give the Canucks fits.

I'll be anxious to see whether or not the Canucks can shut-down Alex Steen, puncture Brian Elliot's confidence and even up the season series, because the Blues are likely to be a very tough out in the postseason.

#5 Kings @ Canucks - March 26th

The Kings destroyed the Canucks on New Years Eve, and man-handled them again (though the Canucks managed to get a point) last week in Vancouver. 

The Kings are the nightmare first round opponent for everyone in the Western Conference. They possess an elite offensive centreman, a tough two-way centreman, an electric, non-traditional goaltender and one of the NHL's most frightening game-breakers in Drew Doughty. They also possess a "fat" professional athlete who hurt himself eating pancakes. You know how hard it is too root against an athlete that relatable? It's really hard! 

While the Kings have been an under-achieving squad over the past couple of seasons, there's a different aura around them this year. It would allay some concerns, at least it would allay my own concerns, to see the Canucks beat L.A. convincingly in their last regular season meeting.

#4 Red Wings @ Canucks - February 2nd

Its been pointed out that the Western Conference has five teams (St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver) with a realistic shot at winning the conference. But it has 7 teams (add: Los Angeles and Nashville) that no one wants any part of in the first round of the postseason. There are no cupcakes in the first round, unless you place first in the conference, and no secretly good, lurking teams (like the Blackhawks last season) on the playoff bubble. 

Basically, winning the West is more valuable this season than it has been in nearly a decade. With a stacked Western Conference, the only way to cruise to the second round is to finish first overall. This is in stark contrast to the situation in the Eastern Conference, where if you're in the top-4 you're pretty much set. 

The Red Wings have been the best possession team in the league all season, and they're the best Western club at the All-Star break from a points perspective, and in terms of goal differential. Defeating the Wings and fattening up on the cupcakes in the Northwest Division is going to be key for the Canucks if they hope to win the conference. This should be a fun game.

#3 Maple Leafs @ Canucks - February 18th

The Maple Leafs make this list for so, so many reasons. First of all, Brian Burke is the GM in Toronto, and there's a heightened level of excitement surrounding any Canucks game against a Brian Burke squad. That heightened level of excitement has developed even further since Gillis took over as the Canucks general manager. Gillis and Burke don't get along and the two fan-bases don't really get along either. The team's rarely play, but their games always feel like a grudge match.

Partly this is because Vancouverites generally hate Toronto (for no good reason). We love to rip the Maple Leafs, and beating them brings Canucks fans an inordinate amount of joy. Also, the Canucks have a massive winning streak over the Leafs to protect, it goes back to 2003 and no-one wants that to change.

This will be a fun game, made even more fun by the fact that it'll be a 4PM start, so it's guaranteed to be called by Jim Hughson. Make sure to follow along with the game on twitter, because the outrage from Leafs fans will add one more fun layer to an already entertaining package.

#2 Canucks @ Blackhawks - March 21st

The Fratellis. Enough said. 

#1 Canucks @ Red Wings - February 23rd

As I see it, the Red Wings are the Canucks main competition in the West this year and they're also unbeatable at home. Truly, they're unbeatable. They've won 16 straight at Joe Louis Arena, and are 19-2-1 on the season at home. 19-2-1! 

This is the premiere game to look forward to over the balance of the regular season. If we're really lucky, the Red Wings will bring their absurd home winning streak into the game, so that the Canucks can be the ones to break it (by February 23rd, it would be up to 23 straight home wins).

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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