3 highlights and 3 lowlights from the 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks season
Photo credit:© Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
This year might not have been all glitz and glamour for the Vancouver Canucks, but it sure was one heck of a ride. That being said, should this year be deemed a success? Obviously not, as the club didn’t make the playoffs for the second straight year, and for the fifth time in seven years. But given the circumstances, causing havoc for other teams until game 80 demonstrates the resiliency and belief Bruce Boudreau has instilled in this team.
The same lineup that was defeated, stuck in the same pattern, riding five-game losing streaks, and miles away from their competition, would go on to put together an impressive back half of the year. With the final game of the season now played, let’s take a not-so-long trip down memory lane to find out what the Canucks did well this season, and what ultimately, sent them heading for summer golf.
Highlight – Goaltending
Although Vancouver failed to find a reliable veteran backup goalie for the second straight year to support Thatcher Demko, the 26-year-old had no problem elevating his game to the next level himself. This season’s performance helped fans understand to expect nothing less from their young netminder.
Demko played in 64 games this year, well beyond his career-high, and even among the top 10 in the entire single-season franchise record. He posted a 33-22-7 record with a 2.72 goals-against average and an impressive .915 save percentage.
The downside of this development was an unmanageable workload, especially in the last couple of months of the season when the Canucks realized a playoff push was still a possibility. This season alone, Demko has been in the top three of the league for minutes played, shots against, saves, high danger chances, and goals saved above average among all goaltenders.
Being called upon in net night and night out to be the difference-maker is a strain on its own, but Demko was also thrust into games he was purposefully booked off for rest, and the effect became noticeable when a few soft goals were going in on the team’s Cyclone Taylor Trophy MVP of the season later in the season.
As a result, Demko is currently battling an injury that will need a procedure this offseason. Aside from hip surgery a few years ago, Demko has been able to remain fairly healthy. His goalie partner already all but determined for next year in Spencer Martin will help to alleviate this pressure.
Martin has served his fair share of time in the AHL and has proven himself to be more than capable of playing at this level in his five appearances — earning at least a point for his team in all of them. Locking down Martin for less than $1 million a year goes a long way in making room for what will surely be an eventful offseason.
Highlight – Special Teams
It might not have been the case at the beginning of the year, but with the additions of Boudreau and Scott Walker, special teams have begun to work in the Canucks’ favour. As of right now, the penalty kill remains among the bottom of the league at 74.78%, but at the time of Travis Green’s firing, the penalty kill was operating at a dismal 64.6%.
With a number so horrid, there was almost no way of making up substantial ground, even when the Canucks killed 27 of 32 penalties in their last ten games. If the penalty kill remained like this all season, Vancouver’s PK would have moved to sixth in the league, ahead of the Calgary Flames, and not 30th.
So how has the penalty kill resurged without one of the best penalty killers in Tyler Motte? Well, Vancouver was actually scoring while being a man down in the homestretch. Fans may have been thrown for a loop when they saw prominent powerplay members like Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser out for regular shifts on the penalty kill, but it’s worked.
Boudreau & CO. changed a passive penalty kill, which did not engage and challenge, by using speedy forwards to apply pressure at the top of the circle, leaving more rugged defenders to cover players below.
If a forward up high makes an interception, perfect, you have the best possible shooter jumping in for a rush. Why clear the puck, when you can create some reasonable offensive zone time?
This is a strategy that has also worked well for the Canucks of the past. Who exactly has the most shorthanded goals as a Canuck? Pavel Bure. And who had the most this season? Elias Pettersson. Speed kills every time.
The Canucks have been equally impressive on the power play, moving from 17.4% to 23.7% – which has placed them among the top 10 teams in the league. It still isn’t perfect, but there are more shots being directed on net from the point, more second effort chances, and better execution altogether, starting from being much more assertive on pucks.
Highlight – Resurgence of Key Players
Elias Pettersson was just two points away from having a 70–point year in what started as his “slump” season. Only four of his 32 goals have been under Green this season, and it hasn’t just been a lights-out year for him. , The Canucks were just one point away from having another 100-point scorer in JT Miller for the first time since Daniel Sedin did it in 2010-11.
All while having Hughes break not one by two franchise records, log 25 minutes a game, and for the first time in his NHL career, have a positive plus/minus differential.
More importantly, Vancouver is getting solid production even from bottom-line players like Juho Lammikko, and encouraging signs from young players like Vasily Podkolzin, who has four goals in his last eight games.
Nevertheless, Bo Horvat is the epitome of a player having his best season of hockey beyond the scenes. Before being sidelined with an injury, the Canuck captain managed to score a career-high in goals with the best shooting percentage of his career, while playing some of his best defensive hockey. The duality of his game has been ever-present in the latter half of the season, scoring timely goals and winning key faceoffs.
Lowlight – Panic Mode Still Engaged
The Canucks gave up far too many high danger chances, fought off by their goalies, and no, this is not just a reflection of the defenceman. In fact, the Canucks have been consistently one of the best, if not the best team 5 on 5.
However, when the Canucks take their foot off the gas, they fall back into really bad habits. Completely hemmed into their zone at the mercy of their opponent, and just simply unable to make any play to get the puck out of danger.
There are still far too many stretches of Canucks hockey that are lackadaisical and careless. When the team is committed to having a bad period, they follow through on it. Boudreau and the team itself have talked about slow starts but maybe the problem lies in consistency. The Canucks have been proven to be able to face adversity, but struggle to turn the tides back in their favour after a few poor shifts.
Lowlight – 11 Extra Points
The only time the Canucks have had a worse OT record was during the 2015-16 season when they failed to make the playoffs. With that in mind, you can’t help but consider if a few of those losses, that the Canucks should have won, would have helped them reach the 95-point mark?
The odd-man rushes in OT may not have been as bad as the 3-on-0 that happened to Markstrom a few years back vs. St. Louis, but that example is literally the worst-case scenario. There were a lot of unwise pinches from forwards that resulted in odd-man rushes and even breakaways.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t necessarily the OT losses that were so upsetting, although they weren’t helpful to the record whatsoever. It was more so that Vancouver shouldn’t have even been sacrificing a point at all when they could have sealed the deal in regulation. There is no need to put more work on yourself — get the job done as soon as possible.
Lowlight – Early Season Woes
We can talk about what could have been done better as of late, but at the end of the day, the way the first quarter of the season went wrote the rest of the Canucks’ season before they had time to change it. Problems that could have been nipped in the bud, were allowed to get out of hand and create a snowball effect.
This is not to say that the Canucks couldn’t have made the playoffs just based on the start, because we all know they could have, and were right there. But the demeanour in the dressing room, the almost downright refusal to turn things around with the team they had, was unbearable to witness. Things got to the point where fans were loudly chanting for change — everything felt like a dead end.
Nevertheless, if we are going to talk about overtime losses being a contributing factor in being short of 95 points, then we have to keep in mind that Vancouver lost a lot of their games, eight to be exact, under Green by a single goal. Green tried to make an offensively strong team fall back on defence, and although they may have had a lower goals-against average at times, Demko had little to no goal support.
With a starting goalie as good as Demko, bite the bullet, trust in him to make the saves, and don’t try to change the identity of a team by completely abandoning a strength. And if that is the plan of action, then more needs to be done to make the defence compensate for the lack of scoring.
All in all, fans will have to wait another 82 games to see if the Canucks can play post-season hockey again. If we look at this season with a glass is half full kind of mentality, then, Vancouver needed to go through the worst first half of the season to get the team on the same page. The real test starts now with how management decides to roll the lineup heading into next year because, as we saw, a good start sets the pace for the rest of the year.
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