Ending on a low note, the Vancouver Canucks’ 41st season in the NHL was not the season to remember. It was a season of big games, overtimes and record setting, but it was not quite the same as last year’s, most likely because of their shortened run to the Cup. However, it did have its special moments, moments that may or may not be remembered twenty years down the road, but important moments none the less.
“I had lots of good times though, you definitely look back on the good times more than anything else,” David Booth told canucks.com as he cleaned out his locker on Wednesday. So lets look back on those good times.
Starting off with a rocky October, the Canucks’ first convincing win was not until their seventh game, a 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators. But the game to remember from October, among all the other disappointing losses was their match-up with the Washington Capitals on October 29. In a game far from lacking goals, Alex Edler, Max Lapierre and Chris Higgins each had a pair of goals and Henrik one in a convincing 7-4 win.
November had its ups and downs as well, but midway through, the Canucks had their first meeting with the Colorado Avalanche, whom they would dominate against for the rest of the season. Winning all six meetings, three of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider’s combined eight shutouts were against them. The Canucks would continue to excel against teams such as Columbus, San Jose and Edmonton.
Games in which the Canucks are sure to dominate are always fun to watch, but a game circled on the calendar at the beginning of the season and possibly the game of the year was the Canucks’ match with the Boston Bruins. It was the first time they had played each other since the playoffs, and this game on January 7 lived up to all the hype. It was rough, there was lots of scoring and the Canucks won, with a score of 4-3. While this game gave players and fans alike confidence and slight redemption, the games that followed were not their strongest. 10 of their 15 shootouts and six of their nine overtime games took place after the game in Boston. While the Canucks were finding ways to win games even if they were not the best team on the ice, the emotional aspect of the game against Boston seemed to have sucked some life out of them.
“From that point on, I don’t think our team ever really collectively got their emotions together,” Mike Gillis told the Vancouver Sun. “We had some injuries that disaffected us and … there were certain points where our goaltending was so good, it got us through, but as a group, I don’t think we executed or played as well for the remainder of the season.”
Cory Schneider, who was in net for that game, slightly disagreed with Gillis.
“I know guys were just exhausted after that game,” Schneider admitted to the Vancouver Sun. “I don’t think people realize the emotional intensity … guys were sore for a week after, just the physicality. [But] I don’t know if that was the defining moment — you would think winning that game would maybe give us some momentum or allow us to get to that level more easily.”
The last half of the season did not go without any memorable moments though. On February 23, the Canucks met the Detroit Red Wings, who were trying to extend their record-setting 23-game home winning streak.
“It was an intense game with a playoff atmosphere,” Luongo told canucks.com. The only thing preventing it from really feeling like a playoff game was that it went to a shootout. Shootouts were never Luongo’s forte, but with the large amount of practice he got playing in 12 of them this season, he greatly improved. He won half of the shootouts he played in, including the one against Detroit in which he stopped all three shots. Alex Burrows scored the lone goal of that shootout and ended Detroit’s record streak with a bang.
As for Schneider, he had a career year, winning twenty games and finishing the season ranked second in save percentage with .937 and third in goals against average with 1.96. His future with the Canucks is unclear at the moment, but with him and Luongo making up one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, it is doubtful that the Canucks really want to get rid of him.
Along with Schneider’s career year, many other players on the Canucks hit milestones or broke team records this season. Sami Salo played in his 100th NHL playoff game, both Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler played in their 500th NHL game, and Henrik Sedin took over first place for the Canucks in consecutive games played, reaching his 500th on October 6. Henrik also notched his 700th career point with two assists in a loss to the Hurricanes in December.
Daniel Sedin was busy too, scoring his 100th career powerplay goal and his 700th career point in an overtime win against the St. Louis Blues in January. He also took over the lead for the most franchise overtime goals with 10 on January 31.
Luongo and coach Alain Vigneault made some franchise records as well. Luongo is currently in the lead for most franchise wins with 224 and Vigneault passed Marc Crawford for most franchise wins by a coach on November 23 with 247. Luongo also made his 700th NHL start in a win against the Minnesota Wild in January.
Each of those milestones, from games played to points, are significant. They show that the Canucks are made up of experienced and talented players.
But despite the records and big games, there’s no doubt that the Canucks had a rough start. Entering the season, the team was coming back after losing the Stanley Cup in game seven of the Finals. They had tough summer in which they lost two previous teammates, Rick Rypien and Pavol Demitra, one from suicide and one in a plane accident. They did not start the season well, the entire city had high and lofty expectations, many players were still recovering from injuries and instances such as the Cody Hodgson trade or the Sedin’s scoring slump confused and frustrated many.
“I think the whole year has been difficult,” Henrik told the Vancouver Sun. “I think it’s been a lot of expectations from us players, from coaches, from management, from all around the city — it seems everything we’ve done hasn’t been good enough, and that’s been a real struggle this year.”
Maybe the Canucks really did suffer from a Stanley Cup Finals hangover, emotionally and physically. But despite that, and the fact that they did not go far in the playoffs, the Canucks continued to prove that they have a very good hockey team. This season they won the Northwest division for their fourth consecutive year as the well as their second consecutive President’s Trophy.
“We just got 111 points, and even though people like to think it was by accident, it wasn’t,” Gillis said. “This is still a good hockey team.”
The Canucks now have a nice long summer which will hopefully benefit them and give them time to rest. Players who had or still have injuries, such as Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, will have time to recover and take a break from the game. While the break might be nice, hockey players and fans alike are anxious for the Canucks’ next chance at the Cup to begin.
“I really enjoyed playing with these guys, kind of got me excited again, like really excited to come to the rink and to play,” Booth told canucks.com. “I’m really happy I came here and hopefully that excitement will be here as long as I’m here…It just goes by so quick, now it’s like where did that go? You wish you could have done something more, started a little bit stronger, it was fun playing in those games, it’s just kind of disappointing looking back.
“It was an emotional year, that’s for sure. I wasn’t expecting the trade at first, then coming here to a new team, trying to get situated, then injuries, struggling on the ice, there’s always highs and lows and that’s a part of being an athlete you have to deal with and it makes you a little bit stronger every time you go through something like that.”
In the words of Kelly Clarkson, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – and these Canucks aren’t dead yet.