Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin – USA TODAY Sports
The Canucks started 2017 the exact way they finished the year prior — by winning. String those bookends together, and that’s four in a row.
While most are revving up the playoff engine, there’s a contingency more reserved in their excitement. Given how the Canucks followed up their last four win run, that’s fair enough. The Canucks lost nine straight, scoring in only six of those games, and went 10-18-3 leading into this four-game rise. Once bitten, twice shy.
Eight of the nine teams they played immediately following their last streak are playoff competitors, though. At the very least, they’ve all remained in the chase. The Canucks face playoff teams in four of their twelve games in January; four of those games, they play against teams immediately ahead of them in the West.
If the Canucks want to make good on their stated goal to make the playoffs, it’s now or never. Unrealistic as that may have seemed even a week or two ago, it’s not an impossibility. In fact, there are a few reasons to believe it might even be plausible. They’re three points out, a distance they can cover in two games
That’s hard to reconcile given the Canucks place in the league by most predictive metrics. They’re a bottom five expected goals team; bottom ten by Corsi for.
They’ve also played more than a third of their season without their top pair defenceman. It’s hard to say how much better the Canucks would be with Chris Tanev and Alex Edler playing a full slate of games. I don’t imagine their presence raises Vancouver from the red, but it’s probably a step in the right direction.
Assuming the injury that kept Tanev from practice yesterday isn’t serious, that’s a theory the Canucks can test in earnest.
Health is one factor in the Canucks favour as they turn the calendar on 2016. For the most part, anyways. That’s going to help them improve their ability to control the shot clock.
Better still, the Canucks getting the odd save is helping them outperform their shot share nightly. Vancouver’s suffered the 23rd worst 5v5 save percentage over the season. They’ve played in front of the league’s eighth best in the last ten games.
Seventy teams in the Behind the Net Era have fielded a worse score and venue adjusted Corsi for than the 2016-17 Canucks. Only eleven of those teams made the playoffs. The lowest even strength save percentage among those teams was a .921. The Canucks are getting .935 goaltending from Jacob Markstrom and Ryan Miller in their last ten games.
That’s not going to last, but if their goaltending doesn’t fall off a cliff, they’re well past the threshold for poor shot share teams that have made the playoffs.
We’re not talking about a good team, but that’s not exactly news. The Canucks are everything we thought they were going into the season. That’s a team that, with enough things going their way, can compete for a playoff spot.
Vancouver’s as healthy as they’ve been all season. They’re at the soft underbelly of their schedule, and their goaltending and special teams are starting to turn around for the better. You don’t have to be good to make the playoffs. You just have to have enough things go your way sometimes.
This isn’t a probable scenario. It’s not like anyone expects Vancouver to run the table in the course of a month. And eventually, the competition gets stiffer. A lot stiffer. That’s exactly why they have to stack up points now. Banked points can go a long way towards overcoming poor overall performance.
It’s to the Canucks credit that this is even a possibility. This season was so close to falling off the rails on so many occasions. How many times was the coach one game from being fired, only to have his team pull off the improbable and string together a plucky win or two?
Now it’s time to flaunt that defiance two-fold in the faces of everyone who thought the playoffs a laughable notion. They might not get that same opportunity again.