Flipping the Switch

Jeff Angus
March 22 2012 10:06AM

As the Canucks crawl towards the postseason, it is becoming painstakingly obvious that the team isn’t giving a full and committed effort each game. It isn’t like they are trying to tank (like a certain divisional rival the past few seasons), but they aren’t willing to risk injury or fatigue. When you combine that mentality with the fact that the teams they are playing are desperate for points, it becomes clear why they are losing more than they are winning right now.

Read past the jump!

The Canucks know what it takes to make it to the Cup Final. Last year, they lost to the deeper and healthier Bruins in a rollercoaster seven game series. The Canucks had key players off the ice due to injury (Dan Hamhuis, most notably), as well as on the ice playing through pain (Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler, Henrik Sedin, and Christian Ehrhoff). Injuries aren’t an excuse, as most teams that win three playoff rounds have to contend with them. However, the team that is healthiest is usually the team that is left standing alone in the end.

The Canucks currently have a firm grip on second place in the Western Conference. It would be nice to catch the conference-leading Blues, but they are creeping further and further out of reach with each passing game. The benefit of coming first is a favourable second round matchup (should you make it past the first round), and we saw that last season as the Canucks faced off with Nashville, avoiding Detroit or San Jose.

Due to the ineptitude of the Northwest Division, the Canucks have a less than a one percent chance of finishing any lower than second in the conference. The players and coaching staff are obviously aware of this. Sure, professional athletes need to always be motivated – their job is to perform at the highest level to bring in both wins and fans, but this Canucks squad is one with a focus on the big picture (which was confirmed by the trade of a potential off-ice distraction in Cody Hodgson). You’ll never get anything more than the cliché “one game at a time” answer, but Vancouver is overlooking these games right now. As fans, should we be concerned? We have seen teams struggle in the past to “flick the switch” and turn it on come playoff time. The Washington Capitals tried this last season and were swept by the Lightning in the second round. I took a look back at Conference Finalists (both Eastern and Western) from the previous three seasons, and how they fared over their final 20 regular season games.

Don’t let the shootout loss category fool you – a 10-8-2 record is a .500 hockey club.

2010-11 Record over final 20 games
Boston Bruins 10- 6 -4
Tampa Bay Lightning 9-7- 4
Vancouver Canucks 15 -5
San Jose Sharks 10 - 5 -3

2009-10 Record over final 20 games
Chicago Blackhawks 11 - 6-3
Philadelphia Flyers 7-7- 6
Montreal Canadiens 10-6 -4
San Jose Sharks 11 - 7-2

2008-09 Record over final 20 games
Pittsburgh Penguins 11-6 -3
Carolina Hurricanes 14 -4-2
Chicago Blackhawks 10-7 - 3
Detroit Red Wings 10-8 -2

The average record for the past 12 Conference Finalists: 10-6-4. Obviously this number is based on past performances and is in no way predictive for how this postseason will play out, but it will hopefully quell some of the doubters of the “flick the switch” strategy. The last 12 teams to make it to the third round have essentially played .500 hockey during the final quarter of the regular season. Read that again. And most of those teams didn’t have the security the Canucks do right now.

To match the 10-6-4 record, the Canucks have to finish the season off with an impressive seven wins in the final nine games. Their March record is dismal, but the three most recent Cup winning teams have struggled in March, as well. Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit only won a combined 21 of 45 March games.

Two things have changed since the playoffs last year that will make the Canucks a better team (assuming Daniel Sedin isn’t out for any length of time):

  1. Deeper at both forward and defense. Don’t let the Cody Hodgson statistics fool you – he was a defensive liability at even strength. The Canucks will miss his presence on the second power play unit, but it was a calculated risk by Mike Gillis. As we are increasingly seeing, the referees are putting the whistles away. Less man advantage opportunities would mean less of a chance for Hodgson to produce. The Canucks have better forwards (notably David Booth on the wing), and more defensemen capable of playing a regular shift (a seasoned Chris Tanev), although they will miss Ehrhoff’s ability to generate offense at even strength.  
  2. A shorter leash on Roberto Luongo. Last year, the Canucks were late in pulling Luongo in a few games that turned ugly – they won’t be so gun shy this year. Expect to see a lot of Cory Schneider if Luongo starts channelling his inner Dan Cloutier.

It would be nice if the team could win a few games before the season ends, and they played a great road game in Chicago. However, if they coast to the end of the season, it isn’t the end of the world. As long as they can stay healthy, the playoffs are a whole new ballgame (cliché, I know).

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 Aaron
March 22 2012, 10:19AM
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TSN should read this before trying to analyze the Canucks' downward trend.

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#2 Cam Davie
March 22 2012, 12:21PM
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GREAT stuff, Jeff. Some excellent context to the Canucks recent level of play. Of course, their effort and emotion last night was a good indication that they can indeed flip the switch. The question now is: Can the rest of the players stay out of the emergency room for the next 3 weeks? Please oh please.

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#3 DaNucklhead
March 22 2012, 03:01PM
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You've only listed the record for 18 games for San Jose 2010-2011 season. According to NHL.com their final 20 game record was 13-4-3 (I remember picking them last year because they were beasts coming into the playoffs)

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#4 Jeff
March 22 2012, 03:47PM
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Thanks for the catch, there.

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