Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Recent games prove the Canucks are already in “hate us because they ain’t us” territory
29 days ago
What do Vancouver Cnaucks games and chicken sandwiches have in common?
These days, both are a little spicier than they’ve been in the past.
The past week-and-a-half especially has featured some hard-fought games full of physicality, agitation, and ultimately severe frustration on behalf of the Canucks’ opponents. It’s a trend that’s almost impossible not to notice, and it’s led us to at least two interesting conclusions on this Monday morning.
Truly, the Canucks have had an extra edge to them ever since dropping their road-trip-opening matchup with the St. Louis Blues on January 4. But if we’re talking extracurriculars, the fun really began on January 13 against the Buffalo Sabres.
To say the two expansion cousins went hard at one another would be to put it mildly.
One could say that, appropriately enough, it all started with a good, clean, open-ice Nikita Zadorov hit…
…But we all know it really kicked off when the Canucks took exception to a Jordan Greenway cheapshot following Sam Lafferty’s game-opening (and game-winning) goal.
It’s not hard to see what the Canucks didn’t like about the high hit. Nor why they responded with some thorough checks of their own, leading up to JT Miller’s crushing of Sabres superstar Rasmus Dahlin.
The cleanliness of that hit is certainly up for debate, but it was, at the very least, far more of a hockey play than the garbage Greenway was pulling. It was also far from the only thing to happen.
The Canucks through a grand total of 23 (recorded) hits against the Sabres, but it felt like more because almost all of them were delivered with full followthrough. Miller and Elias Pettersson led the way with four each.
The Sabres attempted to respond, but weren’t able to do much between the whistles. Instead, they had to resort to retributory fights (that they didn’t win) and post-whistle scrums, none of which seemed to have much impact on the Canucks as they cruised to a shutout victory.
One can understand why, two nights later in Columbus and at the end of a seven-game trip, the Canucks were a little bit less rambunctious.
But the scrappiness held over long enough to show up in last Thursday’s return home against the Arizona Coyotes, and on the tenth anniversary of the “don’t push me” incident, no less.
Once again, it was Lafferty getting things started, with the Coyotes, and professional dummy Liam O’Brien in particular, taking umbrage with a hard forecheck.
Serious umbrage from an unserious hockey player.
Zadorov made sure to respond to O’Brien’s silliness with the kind of lesson than can only be learned via a pair of four-foot arms.
And, like the Sabres before them, the Coyotes tried and failed to respond to the response in their own way. With every check on either side being finished, the Canucks threw more – to the tune of 22-20 – and they threw them harder. This time around, it was Dakota Joshua (5), Lafferty (4), and Nils Höglander (3) leading the way.
The Coyotes were left to show more bark than bite.
That led, in turn and quite satisfyingly, to Saturday’s relative dominance of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This game was physical from the jump. The Canucks are sixth in the NHL for hits/60 with 18.83, but on Saturday they nearly doubled that by throwing 34 against the Leafs. Miller and Joshua led the way up front with six each, and Zadorov and Tyler Myers added a total of seven from the blueline.
To be fair, the Leafs responded a lot better than the Sabres or the Coyotes, managing 26 hits of their own. Both sides showed their frustrations at varying points.
But the Canucks both controlled both the pace of hitting game and the regular ol’ hockey game.
And in the end, it was Toronto letting their frustrations with the Canucks boiled over as several of them tried – and failed – to get a hand on Myers as he started throwing around Leafs like a cordless Black and Decker.
All of which, as we said at the outset, has led us to a couple of conclusions about the Canucks, with both being yet another testament to their sudden and severe uptick in quality throughout 2023/24.
The Canucks just keep getting better, and we keep finding new ways to point it out.
Our first conclusion has to do with the fan experience that comes from these sorts of games. Watching the tenor of the matches devolve into both sides taking runs at one another probably would have been seen as wholly exciting in years past. But this year, it feels different, and a supporter of the Canucks can’t help but feel a little worried watching players like Quinn Hughes and Conor Garland taking hits and facewashes and the like.
Which is, in a roundabout way, a good thing. That the Canucks are worth worrying about says a lot about the confidence they’ve won from their fanbase this season. Nobody wants to see anything, least of all a bad hit, get in the way of what the Canucks have going for them right now.
Our second conclusion has more to do with what the Canucks are doing to draw out all this hatred and anger in the competition.
Back near the beginning of the season, we wrote a piece entitled “It’s about time the Vancouver Canucks were hateable again.” All we were really pointing out then was that the Canucks had picked up a couple agitatorial types in Lafferty and Mark Friedman, and that they projected to be much more physical and ornery this year (they hadn’t even nabbed Zadorov yet at that point.)
But watching the Canucks this past week and a half, there’s more to it than just sandpaper.
Obviously, part of it has to do with how good the Canucks have been playing. There’s a saying that goes “they hate us ‘cuz they ain’t us,” and that feels like a lot of what the opposition is feeling each time they have to face the Canucks.
It’s not just all the goal-scoring and winning, however. The Canucks have shown a penchant for punishing the other team on both the scoreboard and the hit counter. As we mentioned earlier, the Canucks are sixth in the lead in hits/60. But think about that, and then consider just how good the Canucks also are at possession this season.
The Canucks usually have the puck these days. And when they don’t, they seem to be pretty consistently hurling their bodies at their opponents, trying (and usually succeeding) to get it back.
It’s really not hard to see why these teams don’t seem to like playing Vancouver all that much.
Which, with the playoffs coming in just a few months time, seems like a fantastic trait for the Canucks to be developing.
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