The Canucks are rediscovering how to be a winning team with a chip on their shoulders

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
5 months ago
For the first time since the magical 2010-11 season, the Vancouver Canucks were sitting in first place in the NHL earlier this week. But not everyone is buying what the Canucks are selling. Not yet.
With a winning percentage of exactly .700, the 2023-24 Canucks are in territory that only the insanely loaded 2011 squad has reached before them. Heck, even the 2011-12 team that won the franchise’s second straight President’s Trophy only got to .677!
It’s true that this team is in rarified air, but not just because they’re winning a lot — because they’re winning at all.
Outside of the magic bubble season, the Canucks haven’t had many seasons with a definitely “good” or “fun” outcome. Sure, the ‘Bruce There It Is’ era had its moments, but it was still bookended by two of the darkest periods in team history.
Simply put, this is a team used to playing from behind the eight ball, not miles out in front of it. No matter how much the players believe this is where they always belonged, that statistical difference requires a major shift in mentality.
And Rick Tocchet feels that his team playing with a chip on their shoulder is only a good thing.
“I think there’s a lot of outside noise that doesn’t believe in this team,” Tocchet said after yesterday’s practice. “I kind of like that. Me personally, as a player, I like that. I hope we use that as fuel.”
After Wednesday’s practice, Tocchet compared the Canucks to another team that’s rise to the top that experts have been skeptical about: the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. The league-leading Ravens, motivated by being labelled underdogs in their Christmas Day matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, completely dismantled San Fran in a statement 33-19 road win.
The Canucks spot on the podium has been largely attributed to their league-high shooting percentage and quality goaltending from both Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith. And in the same way that individual shooting percentage always gradually returns to the middle (see: Andrei Kuzmenko), it’s only a matter of time before that regression hits, be it this season or next.
But until it does, should the Canucks be actively worrying about it? Not a chance.
Regressing to the mean doesn’t require the Canucks to go on a massive losing streak, or be ‘exposed for the frauds that they are’ as some on social media might put it. But it does mean that some of the wins that came a whole lot easier in the early months of the season could be a lot harder to finish off down the stretch.
And Tocchet is more than prepared with the message for his team if that day does come this year: prove the doubters wrong.
“Whether somebody says you’re lucky or it’s a matter of time before it blows up, I really don’t care about that stuff. I think it’s self motivation and team motivation together.”
And going into the real meat of the NHL season, starting with Thursday’s tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers, that motivation is going to be what drives the team forward.
It’s one thing to try and carry yourself like a winning team.
It’s another to remember every day that you actually are one.
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