The Vancouver Canucks’ hot start, which saw them competing neck-and-neck with the Anaheim Ducks for the division lead in the earlier parts of the season, seemed enough to all but guarantee a playoff berth. The underlying numbers were far from flattering and Ryan Miller’s play at times abysmal, but the torrid scoring pace of the Canucks three third-lines was enough to mask these deficiencies on a nightly basis.
It’s been a complete reversal of fortunes since. From about December onward, the Canucks secondary scoring has all but disappeared. In that stretch, the Canucks are 11-12-2. A team that had begun the season winning in spite of their netminder has since relied on him. And when Miller isn’t going, things get ugly.
I’m becoming less convinced that this club can keep their head above water as the season winds down. Lets take a look at why on the other side of the jump.
So About That Luck Vancouver Enjoyed
When looked at in a vacuum, there are no shortage of circumstances that work against Vancouver’s favour as the season winds down. As Rhys pointed out, much of the horses on which Vancouver’s hopes are planted on in this playoff chase are in the twilight of their careers. The Sedins can’t produce enough to make up for the dearth of scoring throughout the remainder of the Canucks lineup. Miller can’t mask the defensive shortcomings of a team with Luca Sbisa in their top-four.
If that weren’t enough, the Canucks are finally running out of luck on the injury front. Chris Tanev is out with a suspected concussion; Frankie Corrado is suffering from a mystery ailment; Kevin Bieksa had his hand destroyed; Brad Richardson’s been out with a suspected foot injury. Today it’s Chris Higgins who is out with a mystery ailment too.
This was an uphill battle from the beginning. Now it’s the Canucks against the world. With the Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars hot on the Canucks trail, I’m starting to sweat a little. Of these four teams, I can only say with any certainty that the Canucks are better than the Avalanche.
A healthy Vancouver lineup, heading into the most difficult portion of their schedule, would be in tough. What’s left of Vancouver’s lineup has quite the challenge ahead.
Vancouver’s playoff hopes always rested on a strong start. The Canucks needed to feast on weak opponents early, as the schedule allowed considerably less opportunities in the final months of the season. To the Canucks’ credit, they did. It may seem like a small feat, but for a club that has a reputation for playing down to their weaker opponents level, that counted for something.
Playoff chances, east and west. pic.twitter.com/cMWFQ2HlNZ
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 6, 2015
Now, in the home stretch of the 2014-15 regular season, the Canucks mettle will truly be tested. Nearly 70% of their opponents in the home stretch have posted a 50% or higher score-adjusted Corsi%. The Canucks themselves rest at 49.7% score-adjusted Corsi. There’s no free lunch in the coming months.
For the purpose of this article, I charted the eight teams that I feel are in contention for the final four spots in the West. A generous number when one considers the improbability of a team that is out of the playoff chase at this point making it to the show. The way to interpret this graph is that the more yellow and green, the more difficult the table of opponents remaining for that team’s schedule.
I take solace in the fact that Vancouver doesn’t have a uniquely difficult set of opponents left. What I do find daunting, though, is the level of competition the Kings have remaining. A traditionally greedy team with the puck, the Kings have a score-adjusted Corsi of 53.7%, the 4th best mark in the entire NHL. Close to 40% of their remaining opponents can’t even draw even.
— dom luszczyszyn (@omgitsdomi) February 6, 2015
The Minnesota Wild, another strong possession team this season, don’t necessarily have an easy run to the finish line. That said, there are more middling-to-bad possession teams on their plate then good ones. The Wild register just ahead of the Kings on HockeyAbstracts “Team Luck” chart and are due for a little good luck to come their way. They’ve also addressed the anchor that weighed down their season, when they traded for traditionally good-to-average netminder, Devan Dubnyk. Since acquiring Dubnyk, the Wild are 6-1-1.
I feel less threatened by the Stars. Their schedule is equally as imposing as Vancouver’s. That said, they shouldn’t be taken too lightly. They’ve played much of this season without Valeri Nichushkin, an underrated member of the Stars top-line for much of last season. They’ve also had to combat the league’s fourth lowest 5-on-5 sv%. Kari Lehtonen is a traditionally serviceable netminder and should he regress to his usual form, the Stars could be a force down the stretch.
The Canucks are a significantly worse possession team than two of the opponents hot on their trail and many of the teams in front of them. They seem destined to ride their goaltender to the finish line in a similar fashion to how they employed Eddie Lack last season; all this despite middling performance for much of the year and well documented complaints about fatigue in the early parts of the season. Their paper-thin defence is being ravaged by injuries. By score-adjusted Corsi they have one of the more difficult schedules of those teams in contention for Wild Card berths. Things aren’t looking good in Vancouver.
I’m not sure whether to be more concerned about the teams on Vancouver’s trail or the Canucks themselves.
The edict from management was to rebuild on the fly, all the while collecting valued playoff revenue – even if it only amounts to two-games worth. These final months could prove that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, lest you settle for humble pie.