Sunday night’s losing effort against the St. Louis Blues marked the official halfway point in the 2021/22 regular season for the Vancouver Canucks. With 41 games played and 41 games left to go, the Canucks sit seventh in the Pacific Division with a record of 18-19-4, just a hair under .500.
After a hot start under new coach Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks have slipped to 4-4-2 in their last ten. As of this writing, they’re at least four points out of a playoff position, and maybe more once all the various games-in-hand are played out.
Absent of any context, it may seem as though the Canucks are in a bad spot — and, indeed, they do still have a long climb to go if they want to punch their ticket to the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Most oddsmakers have them at about a 14% chance heading into this week.
With all the proper context applied, however, it’s easy to see that the Canucks have put themselves in about as favourable a position as could be expected by this point, and there are a handful of factors to consider that should make that playoff push all the more likely.
The weathering of the storm
Although we can’t really say this with any sort of certainty anymore, the section of the season through which the Canucks just played really should mark their toughest stint of the year. They broke even on an eight-game road trip featuring opponents like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, and then they got hit by a COVID outbreak that claimed four of five organizational goaltenders at one point.
In other words, a record of .500 through January is actually fine and dandy, given the circumstances.
The Canucks didn’t perform poorly enough during the month to fall out of the playoff race, and they kept their heads above water enough to take advantage of the theoretically easier times to come.
The Boudreau Effect
It’s also important to remember that, although we’re talking about the 2021/22 regular season in general, we’re actually talking about two different Canucks teams.
The first went 8-15-2 through 25 games under Travis Green.
The second has gone 9-4-2 under Boudreau, tying them for the tenth best record in the NHL over that same timeframe.
If the Boudreau Effect holds steady, the Canucks would just need to maintain that same general pace to make the playoffs comfortably. And even if a .667 point-pace isn’t sustainable, they’ll be in the running so long as they don’t slip back to a Green Era level of futility.
The strength of the remaining schedule
When we last checked in on the Canucks’ playoff chances in late December, we noted that the Canucks had the eighth-hardest remaining schedule, based on the strength of their upcoming opponents.
But that was before the January Gauntlet.
As of this writing, and according to Tankathon, the Canucks now have the 27th-hardest, or the sixth-easiest, strength of schedule from here on out.
That means only a handful of games against true contenders like the Avalanche, Lightning, and Rangers, none against the likes of the Panthers or Hurricanes, and a bevy of matchups against the dregs of the league, including the Coyotes, Canadiens, and Kraken.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and the Canucks still need to actually win some of those games to start making up points in the standings.
But the odds are now decidedly in their favour, whereas previously they were decidedly not.
The abundance of home games
The Canucks’ schedule thus far has been tilted in the direction of the road. Through 41 games, they’ve played 23 on the road and 18 at home, which means they’ll be facing the exact opposite slate through the next 41 games.
Even better, that remaining schedule includes several notable homestands and no more lengthy road trips. The longest the Canucks will be away from home from here on out is four games in a row.
Homestands allow for greater practice time, greater personal comfort, and a much better opportunity to develop consistency and rhythm. Having more home games than road games down the strength run will go a long way toward keeping the team as healthy and productive as possible.
It’s also a lot more fun for the fans.
The field of struggling rivals
As the Canucks have tread water throughout January, they’ve been buoyed by the performance — or lack thereof — of the teams with which they are directly competing for a playoff spot.
Just within the Pacific Division, the Ducks are 3-7-0 through their last ten, the Sharks are 4-5-1, the Flames are 3-6-1, and the Oilers are 3-5-2.
January may have presented an opportunity for these teams to gain some distance on the Canucks, but it was an opportunity they did not take. Now each of them, with the exception of Calgary, faces a much tougher schedule than the Canucks down the stretch.
The Wild Card race looks a lot tighter, but that’s perfectly fine. The Canucks can and should focus on the third slot in the Pacific Division, if not higher.
Right now, that’s still achievable.
The preponderance of four-point games
Speaking of those division rivals, Vancouver has a preponderance of veritable “four-point” games left against them, which means that the Canucks’ playoff hopes truly lie in their own hands.
Four games against Calgary and Vegas remain. Two against Edmonton and San Jose. One each against Los Angeles and Anaheim.
That’s a lot of opportunity to put two points on the board while preventing one’s opponents from taking any. Just a good run against these teams, specifically, is all it will take to put the Canucks in the playoffs.
Again, we must reiterate that we’re only talking odds here, and that there’s still plenty of potential for a whole host of different outcomes, depending on how the Canucks actually perform.
But if you have to talk odds, you’d obviously prefer for them to fall in your favour, and that’s what the Canucks have to look forward to in February through April of 2022.
What more could they, or their fans, ask for?
- Monday Mailbag: The next goalie up, what Miller could return from top contenders, and where’s Rathbone?
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- Brock Boeser reflects on “frustrating and confusing” COVID-19 quarantine, and the Canucks players still dealing with it