The Vancouver Canucks have a real opportunity to make this an October to remember
Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
As soon as the schedule for the 2023/24 was released, there were already folks claiming that October would be a make-or-break month for the Vancouver Canucks.
Part of that is just past precedence. The opening month of the regular season has been fairly consequential for the Canucks over the last couple of years, far more break than make. For at least the last two years running, October has seen the Canucks dig themselves into holes so deep that even consecutive late-season rallies couldn’t pull them out.
Then there was the shape of the October 2023 schedule itself. We’d already noted how heading out on a five-game road trip immediately following the home opener would be a challenge for basically any team, but especially one still trying to nail down the system of a newish head coach, as the Canucks were with Rick Tocchet.
Any fears of a third tough October in a row were thus pretty reasonable…and, hey, we’re still only halfway through. But so far, it’s been so good, and now the Canucks have set themselves up to really make this an October to remember.
It’s not just about the back-to-back wins against the Oilers to start the month, but it’s also definitely about those wins. Looking at the whole of the October schedule, the Oilers were set to not just be the Canucks’ first opponents in the month, but also their most difficult. Most had the Oilers picked out to be the class of the Pacific Division this year, and much was made of Connor McDavid asking his teammates to show up early to training camp so as to get the Edmonton campaign off to a better start.
Two wins are still just two wins, but it’s hard not to take more moral and practical meaning out of these two wins in particular.
The Oilers went 2-1-0 against the Canucks in 2022/23. The two divisional rivals will play one another four times in 2023/24, which means that the Canucks have already secured at least a season-split with the team widely-recognized as the best in the division.
If the Canucks now win another game against the Oilers, or even just lose one in overtime, they’ve got the season series in the bag already.
It’s a rather nice checkbox to be able to check off this early in the year.
That it comes in the face and to the contrary of those same injury issues that are always pointed to as an excuse for poor Canucks starts? That’s just gravy.
The Canucks will have seven games through the rest of October. Of those games, four of them will be against teams that did not make the playoffs in 2022/23: Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Nashville twice.
The other three are against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers, and the New York Rangers. The Canucks could drop all three contests, win the rest, and still call it a highly-successful October. If they can actually win against one, two, or all three of these opponents, and avoid playing down to the level of the others, then they’ll have done the opposite of what they’ve done in years past. What’s the opposite of digging yourself into a hole? Building yourself a stool?
We’re not here to start counting win-chickens before they win-hatch. The Canucks are still going to have to play at least as well most of these opponents as they did against the Oilers to turn these prospective points into actual points on the board.
But many of those preseason worries have already been alleviated. There were concerns that a season-opening road trip wouldn’t allow the team near enough time to buy in to and learn Tocchet’s system. But by all early indications, the squad looks as bought in as it ever has, and it doesn’t take much more than a casual viewing to see the Canucks already playing with far more structure than they have in the recent past.
We had suggested the Canucks might do best to whittle their exhibition roster down early and get in as much practice time as possible before hitting the road. They did pretty much exactly that, and it looks to be paying off. Now the Canucks can head off for two weeks of intermittent ice-times worried just about maintaining the system, as opposed to still learning it.
Tweaks are still possible on the road. Wholesale changes, less so, so good thing the Canucks don’t need any of those yet. There are no players playing noticeably poorly. With 14 of 18 skaters already having posted a point, it seems that literally everyone is contributing. The leaders are leading. The supporters are supporting. The goaltending is already off to a way better start than in early-October of 2022.
Again, it’s only been two games. But what a two games, and what an indication that this October won’t be like the last couple of Octobers. With two wins against the Oilers, the Canucks have arguably accomplished more than they did in the whole of either of the previous Octobers. This is the first time in decades that the Canucks have even gone 2-0 to start the season. Take down the Flyers next, and the possibilities of this being a hallmark month only increase.
And beyond October? The Canucks get to settle into a much more regular schedule. There are more lengthy road trips coming, but not until January. November and December look to be fairly light months, with evenly-spaced games and plenty against non-playoff opposition.
This is still hockey. And Canucks hockey at that. There are no guarantees at play here, and especially not positive ones.
But as we said at the outset, what the Canucks have done here is created an opportunity for October 2023 to be a positive difference-maker in their overall 2023/24 campaign.
And that’s a lot more than could be said about October 2021 (1-2-1 to start) and especially October 2022 (0-6-1 to start).
With recent history like that, (2-0-0) just feels a heck of a lot better.
Recent articles from Stephan Roget