The Canucks have been an inconsistent team through the first six games of the season. Many had predicted a slow start based on the short summer and the injury issues with several key players. There have been a few positive stories to come out in the early weeks, as well as some potentially alarming trends that are emerging. The Stanley Cup isn’t won or lost in October, but points are points.
5. Better late than never for Cody Hodgson to arrive as a legitimate NHL forward. Through the first six games, he’s looked much bigger, stronger, and confident with and without the puck. His play away from the puck is still a work in progress, but he’s shown a lot of creativity and poise, especially on the second power play unit. Unless Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson drink the entire fountain of youth between them, Hodgson will stick around in Vancouver for the season.
4. Ryan Kesler’s early return has yet to benefit the team at all, but it will. He is one of the most complete and dominant two-way forwards in the league. Manny Malhotra has looked better in the past few games, and there are few fourth line centers around the league as complete as Max Lapierre. Vancouver’s strength down the middle with four centers that can play tough minutes is going to help them out immensely as they try and get back on track after a predictably slow start.
3. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Keith Ballard’s play has been a revelation this season, but he looks leaps and bounds better compared to last season. He’s had a few rough games (the road game in Edmonton last Saturday in particular), and his ice time is still well below where it should be for a defenseman making $4.2 million. However, improved reads defensively, more confidence with the puck, and better communication on the ice with his defensive partner are all very noticeable. Unless the Canucks have an ace up their sleeve in the next few years (Shea Weber, or Kevin Connauton somehow developing hockey sense), Ballard is going to be sticking around and the team needs to get the most it can out of him.
2. Alain Vigneault has proven that his dog house is not a permanent fixture. This may not be a huge issue to many fans, but there are coaches out there who make it impossible for players to escape from the bad books (JM Liles and Joe Sacco in Colorado is a great recent example). Vigneault didn’t give Ballard much of an opportunity last season to prove his worth (the argument could be made he didn’t deserve one), and he never seemed to be the most ardent supporter of Hodgson, either. Both were given fresh slates this season from the coaching staff – something that all players deserve.
1. Pierre McGuire has moved to NBC full time. I thought Alyn McCauley did a great job calling the game on TSN as the color analyst last night, even if he is a former Leaf. McGuire’s passion for hockey is commendable, but his fascination with broken sticks and small prairie towns is not.
5. Secondary scoring has been nonexistent. Aside from a solid start from Cody Hodgson and Chris Higgins, the depth forwards have been nowhere to be found on the stat sheet.
4. Alex Edler hasn’t entered beast mode, just yet. The soft-spoken and hard-hitting defenseman seems to have two levels of play – “I don’t give a crap” and “I’m going to destroy the opposition.” The Canucks would prefer he settle somewhere closer to the latter.
3. With Samuelsson, the good (a great interview, experience, poise with the puck, creativity on the power play, love of shooting the puck from anywhere on the ice) comes with the bad (extremely low percentage plays, lackadaisical play away from the puck, and a love of shooting from anywhere on the ice). He’s going to bounce back this season (he’s playing with extremely talented players on the top unit), but the bad has outweighed the good so far.
2. Could free agent flop Marco Sturm have gotten off to a worse start? I trust Mike Gillis’ judgement of hockey players (he hasn’t been perfect in his time as a general manager, though), but I’m not really sure what he and/or his scouting staff saw in Sturm last season. A player who relied immensely on his speed coming off of two very serious knee procedures? Sturm has looked a step behind the play, both physically and mentally. The NHL regular season is a marathon and not a race, but Sturm looks to be done as a top six forward (unless the aforementioned fountain of youth makes an appearance).
1. Mr. October is back. Roberto Luongo needs to start taking an annual October trip to Joshua Tree, collect his thoughts, and return in November. He’s been awful every October, but this year seems to be exponentially worse with the memory of the Stanley Cup Final collapse(s) still fresh in people’s minds. The team really needs to rally behind him with the tensions increasing between the player, the fans, and the local media. We’ve run enough crap goaltenders out of this town, the focus should be on keeping the good ones around.