Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
18 observations from the Vancouver Canucks’ first 18 games
3 months ago
We’re already one-eighth of the way through the NHL season, and even with two straight losses the Canucks are sitting comfortably. With a 12-5-1 record and second place in the Pacific, Rick Tocchet’s squad is a team with the confidence to win through adversity and focus on adjustments and changes as they go. There’s no need for drastic risky lineup changes when you’re not starting behind the 8-ball.
That isn’t to say it’s been a perfect start for them either. There’s been a few ugly efforts, nights where the power play was the only thing holding them afloat, and even some tough outings for their otherwise excellent goalie tandem. So what have we learned from each of the Canucks’ first 18 games of the season?
Time to hop on the bus, because we’re going to school.
1. A good start to the season makes a HUGE difference
What sets your season up for success more: blowing a three-goal lead in the season opener or an eight goal performance, including four from Brock Boeser? If you guessed the latter, you win a candy bar!
Did the Canucks get kinda lucky on a couple goals, namely the one that went off Boeser’s foot and past a stunned Jack Campbell? For sure they did. But all the goals count the same, and now the Canucks are playing with a level of confidence we haven’t seen from them in almost four years.
The Oilers? Not so much.
2. Bottom six scoring can beat an opponent’s response game
The Canucks saw the Oilers’ ‘Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl after an embarrassing loss’ and raised them one ‘Jack Studnicka and Sam Lafferty just doing their thing’.
Vancouver was under siege for parts of this game, and then got key goals from Studnicka and newcomer Lafferty, showcasing the sudden improvement in talent the Canucks’ bottom six had added over the offseason. Rick Tocchet’s team doesn’t have to rely on the big guns nearly as much this season, though their impact will still be very, very high.
3. Rick Tocchet has very high standards
After an uninspiring loss to the Flyers, Rick Tocchet ripped into his squad’s compete level.
“Who are we to think we’re anybody?” was one fiery quote from a coach whose team had already stomped the Oilers twice and scored 12 goals in their first two games. But he was onto something; the Canucks had work to do and it wasn’t going to be an easy road there.
4. Tyler Myers is a game changer, for better or for worse
Tyler “The Chaos Giraffe” Myers will be remembered for three reasons in their October matchup with the Lightning. One was for scoring a goal, the other two for a pair of egregious defensive mistakes that ended up costing his team a victory.
You can describe Myers’ game with many words, but ‘unimpactful’ isn’t one of them.
5. The Canucks can keep up with Cup finalists
After two lackluster performances in Philly and Tampa, the Canucks put together a stronger effort against the defending Eastern Conference Champions. The Panthers were easily the better team, particularly in the later stages of the game when they erased a two-goal lead, but the Canucks scored a late winner in a game that would’ve gone the other way last season.
6. Ilya Mikheyev was dearly missed
Ilya Mikheyev’s absence due to an ACL tear was felt throughout last season, and he made a near immediate impact when he ripped this shot past Juuse Saros in just his second game.
Now, with ten points in 14 games, Mikheyev is well on his way to a career season. Let’s hope he stays healthier this season.
7. Captain Quinn Hughes shoots
Quinn Hughes with a captain’s ‘C’ on his jersey is a different animal.
Hughes quarterbacked one of the most dangerous Canucks power play opportunities early against the Blues, and then let this absolute rocket go right after returning to even strength.
I was sitting in the lower bowl on the same side Hughes took this shot, and let me tell you: video doesn’t do justice to just how fast and clean this shot was. Hughes with the captain responsibilities is like a Pikachu that evolved into the god Pokémon Mew.
8. Stealing points against strong opponents makes a big difference
The Canucks could’ve been dead in the water after the Rangers scored twice midway through the third period, and have been in year’s past. But they immediately turned the pressure back up after falling behind, and Carson Soucy tied the game with less than five minutes to go.
They eventually fell to Rangers 4-3 in overtime, but salvaging even a single point against a team fighting for top spot in the Metropolitan is a drive that serves you well all year. Especially when playoff spots are officially up for grabs come February and March.
9. Elias Pettersson is building a Hart Trophy campaign
Elias Pettersson isn’t the only Canuck with 28 points right now, but with a hefty new contract and his future in Vancouver both uncertain, his contributions at the top of the NHL leaderboards are what everyone is watching most.
In a rematch with the Predators Pettersson had an electric night, scoring his second career hat trick and leading his Canucks to a 5-2 win.
How sustainable the pace that Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller are currently on is anybody’s guess. But if there’s one player out of the three who’s most likely to break away from the pack – full health assuming – and make a run for the Hart Trophy this season, it’s probably Petey.
10. The Canucks are FAR from a bottom feeder this year
You don’t score ten goals in an NHL game without having a glut of talent. Okay maybe anyone can when they’re playing the horrendous San Jose Sharks. But still, the Canucks’ 10-1 demolition proved just how big the gap is between them and the league’s worst teams this year. ‘Tanking’ isn’t a word in their vocabulary this season.
11. Thatcher Demko is still the straw that stirs the drink
The Canucks’ tilt with the Dallas Stars was a classic goalie battle. Jake Oettinger was superb for the Stars, stopping 26 of 28 shots. But unfortunately for the Stars, Thatcher Demko was perfect.
Even with the sudden wealth of run support Demko is still being called on to steal wins, and that 2-0 shutout was Exhibit A.
12. 30 goals is well within Brock Boeser’s reach
If Brock Boeser’s four-goal home opener against the Oilers was being considered a fluke, he went to work proving that wrong in their third meeting with Edmonton.
Boeser scored goals nine and ten on the year, including this well positioned rebound in the first period.
Boeser has re-established himself not only as a perfect netfront presence this season, but also as the legitimate goal scoring threat that some of us have been promising for years. Now at nearly a goal per game pace, 30 goals is well within Brock’s reach and then some.
13. The Canucks can win when they don’t play well
The Canucks scored two goals less than three minutes into their game against the Senators and never looked back in a 5-2 win. But the scoreline doesn’t tell you just how atrocious they looked for the vast majority of this game.
Ottawa dominated the Canucks, outshooting them 30-16, but Casey DeSmith made all the saves he need to and the Canucks’ most high-profile example of PDO luck took shape. Last year’s Canucks got outplayed in plenty of games like this one, but this season’s rendition can walk away with two points anyway.
14. The Canucks can lose when they don’t play well
The Toronto game was the polar opposite of the Ottawa game. Once again, the Canucks scored a pair of early power play goals to grab an early lead and played the Maple Leafs for the vast majority of the night. But the speedy Leafs put the Canucks on their heels during the entire second period and early third, scoring five unanswered in the process.
Is it understandable that the Canucks aren’t infallible? Of course. Does one also wish that they could’ve done it in a game other than the one in Toronto? Absolutely.
15. Back-to-backs aren’t always a scheduled loss
After those two underwhelming games in Ontario, it wouldn’t have been surprising for the Canucks to fall into a similar trap exactly one night later in Montreal. But the Canucks held firm with three goals in the second period and held an inexperienced Habs team at bay in the final 20 minutes.
The Canadiens are in the midst of a rebuild but already have a lot of dangerous pieces, so holding Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield off the scoresheet is no easy feat. Which makes it all the more impressive the Canucks did so with no day off in between.
16. Quinn Hughes is Wayne Gretzky’s favourite defenceman
Okay, that might be a bit hyperbolic. But the Great One has been gushing about Quinn Hughes’ game for ages now, and during TNT’s coverage of Vancouver’s matchup with the Islanders he didn’t hold back his appreciation.
Of course, Hughes proved the greatest of all time right with a breakaway overtime winner, getting behind former captain Bo Horvat in the process. Not a bad night.
17. The Canucks need some work at 5v5
Even with all the hoopla around this team there’s still bugs being ironed out, specifically at even strength. Elias Pettersson scored on the power play in the first period to give his squad a lead, but the Flames were the better team at 5v5, scoring all four of their goals at evens.
As the Canucks’ PDO starts sliding back towards earth, finding a way to win without a potent power play is going to be a big part of maintaining their pace in the Pacific Division. Especially if teams like Calgary and Seattle are starting to figure themselves out.
18. A top 4 defenceman is still on the shopping list
The Kraken exposed how even losing a single defenceman for an extended period of time dramatically impacted the Canucks’ abilities in their own end. Filip Hronek at around 19 to 20 minutes a night is doable. Hronek playing almost half an hour a night isn’t going to be sustainable.
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