5 questions facing the Canucks over the final month of the NHL season and into playoffs

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
David Quadrelli
3 months ago
We’re 31 days away from the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Can you believe it?!
After starting the month on an impressive four-game win streak, the Vancouver Canucks have now lost two straight games. The first came after blowing a three-goal lead against the Colorado Avalanche; the second, the result of seeming to take the Washington Capitals far too lightly and subsequently running out of time to forge a comeback.
There are plenty of takes and questions about this team swirling around. On players, coaching decisions, and just about anything else you can imagine — even french fries!
But today, we try to narrow it down to five key questions facing the Canucks down the final stretch of the season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begin on April 20th.
Will they win the Pacific? The West? 
The Canucks have been sitting comfortably in first place in the Pacific Division for quite some time now. An epic collapse from the LA Kings that ended in head coach Todd McLellan’s firing, along with a slew of injuries hitting the Vegas Golden Knights, allowed the Canucks to pull ahead in what was originally expected to be a three-horse race right down to the finish line.
Somewhere along the way (a 16 game win streak certainly didn’t hurt), the Edmonton Oilers began to pick up points after a dreadful start to the season that resulted in — you guessed it — the in-season firing of their head coach.
The Oilers now find themselves eight points back of the Canucks with three games in hand. They’re 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, and although they have to face some tougher opponents than the Canucks do, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Edmonton could catch Vancouver for top spot in the Pacific.
This would, of course, mean that the Canucks face whoever is third place in the Pacific instead of a wild card team lower in the standings; and it would also mean the most insufferable Oilers fan you know is going to get a whole lot more annoying.
Naturally, questions about winning the Pacific mean there are questions about winning the Western Conference as a whole, which would secure the Canucks home ice advantage all throughout the playoffs (unless they were to face the President’s Trophy winner in the Stanley Cup Final, but let’s take it one round at a time).
Currently, the Canucks sit first in the West, but second by points percentage, as the Winnipeg Jets have amassed 91 points — the Canucks have 92 — in one fewer game than Vancouver. Colorado and Dallas both sit at 91 points as well. This race is going to be tight.
Who will be their round one opponent? 
Of course, the Canucks’ final position in the standings will most directly affect the outcome of who they face in the first round of the playoffs.
If the playoffs started today, the Canucks would face the Vegas Golden Knights, who currently slot into the second wild card spot in the west. Now, there are a few scenarios here, but first, let’s take a look at the western wild card race:
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that the LA Kings have the same number of points as Vegas does in the exact same number of games, so they could be in the second wild card spot as opposed to third in the Pacific by the time you read this article.
The Nashville Predators are 8-0-2 in their last 10 and seem to be getting hot at the right time of year. What this all means for the Canucks is that — assuming they remain at the top of the Pacific — if they lose the Western Conference crown then they will face the WC1 team (currently Nashville), but if they win the West, they’ll face the second wild card team, which is currently Vegas.
There’s a month left of regular season games and it will be very interesting to see how this playoff race shakes out in the West.
Will Elias Lindholm find his footing? 
Speaking of playoffs, what better time for Elias Lindholm to finally find his footing as a Canuck than in round one?
To this point, Lindholm has not been a fit with the Canucks, who gave up a highly-rated prospect in Hunter Brzustewicz along with a couple of draft picks to acquire Lindholm from the Calgary Flames at the end of January. The thought process of trading for Lindholm over a month away from the NHL trade deadline was to allow him to get acclimated, but so far, that’s yet to happen.
Lindholm, originally acquired to solve the problem of Elias Pettersson not having consistent wingers, has bounced all around the Canucks’ lineup.
With just four goals and three assists through 19 games with the Canucks, Lindholm hasn’t been a fit with the Canucks just yet, and with the team electing not to add more on trade deadline day, they’ll certainly be hoping that changes soon.
Will Thatcher Demko be ready (actually ready) for the playoffs? 
The Canucks have lost two straight games since Thatcher Demko went down with a knee injury in the Canucks’ 5-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Technically, Casey DeSmith saw that Winnipeg game through to its finish after Demko left in the second period, which serves as a good reminder that DeSmith hasn’t been the problem in these two losses for the Canucks despite them being just that — losses.
That being said, the Canucks cannot wait to get their starting netminder back, as he’s currently week-to-week with a lower body injury.
When Demko first went down, head coach Rick Tocchet expressed quite literally zero concern that Demko would be back in time for the playoffs, which is great.
But there’s a big difference between returning for game 82 and then starting game one of the playoffs compared to getting three or four regular season starts to prepare for the playoffs. The reason I say three or four is because that’s how many starts starting goalies typically get in the preseason before being good to go for the NHL regular season.
If the Canucks are going to make any noise in the playoffs, they’ll need Demko at his best. Given how good he’s been this season — and that it only took three preseason starts for him to hit the ground running to open the campaign — it will certainly be interesting to see how long before the playoffs actually start that Demko returns to the Vancouver goal crease.
Will the power play start clicking?
On yesterday’s episode of Canucks Conversation, I was adamant that I’m not worried about the Canucks’ 5v5 play or their ability to play to Rick Tocchet’s staples despite them being a little bit too relaxed on those details over these past two losses.
And that’s mostly because we’ve seen them flip that switch and dominate teams at even strength — good teams, even — the way they did on their four game win streak to open this month.
What I’m more concerned about is the Canucks’ power play, which has been stagnant for too long now.
Here’s the Canucks’ power play percentage by month.
October: 26.7%
November: 29.8%
December: 12.5%
January: 30.3%
February: 15%
March: 15.3%
As you can see, the power play has had its ups and downs, but they’ve yet to go through a two-month stretch where they’ve been held at bay quite like this.
With all that firepower, they simply need to be better. They need to start converting and impacting games. Losing the special teams’ battle is a problem at any time of year, but during the playoffs when power plays are so hard to come by and thus far more valuable, teams simply can’t afford to roll into the playoffs with a power play clicking at such a low rate.
What questions do you have about this Canucks team over the final month of the regular season and into the playoffs? Let us know in the comments section below!

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