In the blink of an eye, the Vancouver Canucks have already played 17% of the NHL season.
Leading the league in games played, the Canucks have already had three sets of back to backs. With a gruelling early schedule without a proper training camp and preseason, struggles were bound to happen.
Struggles such as special teams, top players not producing, and defensive play have topped the list for many people. The Canucks ranked near the bottom of the league in goals allowed per period, and it wasn’t a pretty sight early on, to say the least.
After winning their first game in Edmonton, the Canucks lost the following three while getting shutout by ex-teammate Jacob Markstrom in his first game against his former side. Things didn’t go smoothly for their home opener despite winning in a shootout, and Tyler Toffoli put on quite a show in not only his first game back against the Canucks but for the entirety of the three-game set.
The tide started to shift as soon as the Ottawa Senators touched down at YVR. With Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby’s stellar goaltending and the lotto line’s reemergence, the Canucks swept the three-game mini-series and are now back to .500 hockey.
However, those aren’t the only bright spots the team has seen so far.
Bo knows hockey
The second-year captain has picked up right where he left off in the Edmonton bubble.
At the time of this writing, Bo Horvat is tied for second in goal scoring with five goals (along with Tyler Motte). Tied for eighth in points with ten, Horvat tops the league in face-offs taken (207), won (119), and percentage(57.5%), respectively. Tied for second in face-off percentage last season, Horvat has emerged as a dominating centreman who can slide into 1C if need be, take critical face-offs and play in almost any situation.
Despite not having any consistency on his wings, Horvat has still improved in the stats department every single year. Entering the 2021 season, one of Jake Virtanen/Loui Eriksson and Tanner Pearson were pencilled in to ride shotgun with Horvat once again, but Nils Hoglander had other ideas.
No, not the Big Ten Network; it’s the Hoglander, Horvat and Tanner Pearson line (the BTN line?). It looks as though the rotating door on Horvat’s right side has finally closed, as Hoglander has grabbed the opportunity and hasn’t let go.
Nils Hoglander went ALL OUT for this assist. 😲 pic.twitter.com/ObNBRfxR5O
— NHL (@NHL) January 26, 2021
Tied for third in rookie scoring with five points, Hoglander’s exuberant play has been a blessing in disguise after offseason turmoil with players leaving. His never give up attitude and hockey IQ has provided Pearson and Horvat with an extra element to their own game.
The BTN line has provided the Canucks with top-line production, shooting at 16.4%, a plus-three and a Corsi of 58.4%. With the Canucks second line producing phenomenal and the Lotto Line looking to take flight, the Canucks can have a great top-six in the future if Horvat and company keep clicking at their current rate.
Olli Juolevi and Jalen Chatfield have looked solid so far, appearing in seven and four games, respectively. Juolevi has been playing with confidence and looks more comfortable each time he steps on the ice. With a run of bad luck the past few years, Juolevi scored his first NHL goal against the Senators.
Chatfield has held his own, and is hardly noticeable on the ice which means he’s doing the job and doing it well. He has earned the trust of the coaching staff to play tougher minutes than Juolevi was, but both have certainly been bright spots.
A slow start from Quinn Hughes? Not quite.
The sophomore currently leads the league in points by a defenceman with 11 through ten games. If this is what a slow start looks like for Hughes, well, the NHL should be on high alert. Hughes has been producing numbers both at even strength and on the man advantage.
Lately, the Norris Trophy has been awarded to the defenceman with the most points or thereabout, so there’s no doubt Hughes will be in the running by the end of the season if he can keep this up.
Quinn Hughes of the @Canucks collected two assists in his 100th NHL game (regular season and playoffs).
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 29, 2021
The bottom-six forward group has been a problem the past few seasons. However, they haven’t been an issue thus far into the season.
Mixing and matching with Virtanen, Adam Gaudette and Zack MacEwen, all three have missed at least one game, and the rotating door might last all season. MacEwen’s style of play has bumped him to the lead among the three and he could see some more action. However, Motte girl summer won’t be coming out of the lineup any time soon.
Motte has picked up where he left off and has been one of the team’s most consistent forwards. Playing with either Jay Beagle, Antonie Roussel, or Brandon Sutter, all four have had a pleasant start to the new campaign combining for 14 points, and have actually been controlling play, especially when Sutter was skating alongside Beagle and Motte.
Huge concern heading into this season about what #Canucks would get from their bottom six. Despite the record, they have been clearly better than they were a year ago. Imagine where this team would be if the top of there lineup was playing at the level they should be? @TSN1040
— Farhan Lalji (@FarhanLaljiTSN) January 26, 2021
Lotto line/Power Play
A power play that started 0-16 has rebounded nicely, going six for 22. The power play has been more efficient in moving the puck, making defenders move and creating shots compared to before when passes seemed to be forced and bobbled. The Canucks now are looking to become a top tier power play once again this season.
After missing the first three games, it’s no surprise the team’s power play has been better since J.T Miller has been in the lineup. While things started slow for Miller (though he has nine points in seven games) and Elias Pettersson, the two have found their old ways in recent games and have shaken off the early season rust.
Since the start of the Senators series, the line has found its mojo and is clicking at a pace everyone is used to at even strength and on the power play. Last three games, the trio has combined for six goals and ten points. Brock Boeser is tied for the lead league in goals with six. It’s safe to say the lotto line has its confidence and swagger back.
Struggles of the Lotto Line feel like a long time ago all of a sudden
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) January 29, 2021
Now on a three-game winning streak, the Canucks need to build off of the series sweep against the Senators. Yes, it’s only the Senators, but to compete in this ultra-competitive division, taking care of business against teams like Ottawa is a must, especially with a tough road trip ahead.
The next ten games for the Canucks will be challenging. After playing six on the road, they will return home for a three-game set against the Calgary Flames.
This stretch could make or break the Canucks’ season with the halfway mark just eight games away afterwards.