It’s the return of the CanucksArmy roundtable! Every Friday for the remainder of the season, I’ll be asking a panel of CanucksArmy’s finest a question that is relevant to whichever storylines are circling the team that week. This was one of my favourite weeklies when I was a reader, so I’m excited to be taking it over after a long hiatus.
It’s been very much a tale of two teams through the first three games of the season. The Canucks played well enough to win in Edmonton, but were stifled by a lack of offence and a couple of poorly-timed defensive gaffes. Then they put up a paltry offensive performance in Calgary, followed by an 8-2 romp on home ice on Wednesday night against the Kings. So, this week’s question is: who are the Canucks? Are they the team we saw in Calgary, or the one we saw on Wednesday night against L.A.?
I think the defensive performance we saw in Calgary is one that we will see again. Offensively, I don’t expect the majority of games to go how they did against the Flames, but early on we could see more of that as the top six develop chemistry with the new additions in Miller and Ferland. The home opener stood out for several reasons, including the fact that everything went in. We saw the Canucks capitalize on so many opportunities and score goals off fortunate bounces. When you consider the high danger chances allowed, the incredibly poor play by Jonathan Quick and the quality of that Kings team playing the back to back as well, it was a perfect storm resulting in an outcome we’re unlikely to see again soon. The funny thing about the contrast in final scores is that the underlying numbers show the Canucks losing the expected goal share (xGF%) battle in both games at 5 on 5, finishing below 45% in both nights. Despite the scores, I think there’s more similarity in their 5 on 5 play over the last two games than we may think.
Can it not be both? This isn’t a team that will score 300 goals this season but it isn’t one that’s going to get taken behind the woodshed every night either. Putting Miller on the top line with Pettersson and Boeser is a great fit and maybe it was too early to move Ferland off that line but stats don’t lie.
Jacob Markstrom has played well so far and as the new guys gel, they get more comfortable taking risks and there are players on this team that can dominate as the season goes on. It doesn’t have to be JUST 40 and 6. Hughes looks like the real deal as well and for the first time in awhile the depth can back them up if things get dicey.
I love that there’s opportunity this season.
The Canucks are going to be hard to follow this year if you are a fence sitter, they have enough talent to be a playoff team but have enough players that can hold them back as well. We have seen Adam Gaudette be used as a top nine centre early on this year and I think that’s one of the main factors that can drastically change this team’s outcome. If the Canucks are able to control enough of the goal share with their middle two lines and have a top line that scores at a first line rate they should be fine. We have not seen any injuries so far and that will also be a major key to where this team finishes. It’s still very early but I believe that this team is still a year away from being considered a playoff team. One more year of growth from the youth and the inexperience will start to disappear while the skill will shine even more with the team’s young talented stars. This team could play like they did on their Alberta road trip or they could score like they did against the Kings but one thing is for sure, Canucks fans will freak out every time Hughes or Pettersson have a great game and I’m hoping we see 30-40 of those this season and get closer to seeing 50+ of them by next year. If they can get 50 great games from Hughes and Petterssson then playoffs could be in the near future.
There will be nights where the top six won’t be able to generate much and others where bounces fall the Canucks’ way and Chris Tanev gets in the goal column. Like my Canucks Army colleagues have said, Vancouver’s offence this season will likely fall along the middle of the spectrum but early on, there have been some reasons for optimism. Namely, JT Miller and his immediate impact on the top two lines. In just under 40 minutes of even strength action, Miller has controlled 68.1% of the shots and 71.4% of the goals. The decision to move Miller up to the top line against the Kings paid early dividends but the pairing of Miller and Bo Horvat has also been very strong possession wise. Together, the duo have controlled 66.67% of the shots in 23 minutes of even strength ice time. Vancouver had to get its top line rolling but moving forward, scoring will need to be spread out amongst the Pettersson and Horvat line and how the top six forms over the next few weeks will be an interesting storyline to watch. Where the Vancouver Canucks will also realize an increase in scoring over years prior will be from the blue line. The pairing of Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev has been fantastic so far controlling 60.87% of the shots at 5 on 5 along with a goal a piece. I don’t expect Tanev to become a goal scoring machine but that pairing’s ability to move the puck out of the defensive end and on to the sticks of Vancouver’s high end forwards will translate into goals in the long run. Ultimately, whether or not this team is closer to the result of the Kings or Flames games rests in the Canucks’ bottom of the roster. They have invested a lot of capital into the bottom six and need to receive acceptable shot and goal shares out of it. If not, I don’t think we’ll be seeing consistent offence from Vancouver as they rely upon their young top six and rookie defender to shoulder the brunt of the workload.
The answer is that this team is exactly what it looks like. A bubble team that, contrary to Drew Doughty’s opinion, should in fact roll over teams like LA, Detroit, and Ottawa, but that is going to be inconsistent again other bubble teams like the Oilers and Flames.And if there’s one thing we should all understand by now, it’s the Law of Small Numbers. Wide swings in performance are to be expected when you’re looking at a handful of games. Generalising these results to divine the true nature of this team is a fool’s errand. As some Guy once said, “There aren’t enough small numbers to meet the many demands made of them.”