63 down. 19 to go.
In just over a month, after their last 19 regular season games, the Vancouver Canucks will once again face the trials of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But until then, there are games to look forward to, players to watch and lots of hype to be made.
What is to be expected over the next 19 games? Points, points and more points. The Canucks are at the top now and are capable of staying there. The clinching of the President’s Trophy is on the horizon and the Canucks are not far, now that most of the other teams have caught up to them in the number of games played. Who does not love home ice advantage anyways?
As well as being at the top of the league, the Canucks are 19 points ahead of Colorado for number one in the Northwest Division and are virtually guaranteed to win their division for a fourth year in a row.
The Canucks have been 31-7-5 since their slump in October and November, are near the top of league in goals for with over 200, and are one of only two teams in the league with at least 40 wins. Things are looking pretty good for the Canucks, who recently had back-to-back blowout wins against Toronto and Edmonton and an intense and emotional game in which they ended Detroit’s amazing home win record.
“It’s great, it’s showing that we can win all sorts of games any kind of way, especially on the road, those are the ones that are even tougher,” Cory Schneider told Canucks.com after a win last Friday against the New Jersey Devils. “It kind of resembles last year where we just found a way to win games no matter what and I think we’re getting a pretty good stretch of hockey here.”
With the trade deadline approaching, it will be interesting to see if the Canucks make any moves. Now that Ballard has been placed on the long-term injury reserve, the Canucks have around $4.6 million in cap space and could possibly try to gain another defenceman. It has been speculated that Ballard will miss the rest of the season with concussion-like symptoms.
“He’s seeing some specialists,” GM Mike Gillis told Team 1040. “We’re hopeful he’s going to recover and be a player for us in the playoffs.”
Speaking of defence, the next few games for Sami Salo should be interesting as well. At age 37, Salo has mentioned retirement many times before, but re-signed with the Canucks on July 1, 2011, as he believed that he is playing with the franchise that has the ability to win the Stanley Cup.
“I had a lot of really great years and not just with the players,” Salo told Canucks.com back in July. “…team management and the ownership have put a lot of effort into the team and rebuilding. I just felt that we had a really good chance of doing something special, like we did last year with winning the Presidents’ Trophy and getting all the way to the Final.”
The coaching staff gave Salo a break from playing when he sat out the Canucks’ game against the New Jersey Devils, which was the second of back-to-back games and their fifth game in a week. He is known for his injuries and suffered a concussion after getting clipped by the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand in January, but is still a strong and solid defenceman who will be very valuable to the Canucks in the playoffs.
Chris Tanev has played very well for the Canucks and should remain with them for the rest of the season, unless a more valuable defence comes along. On the other hand, it seems like Byron Bitz will continue to pop in and out of the lineup until he can find his place and prove to the coaching staff that he belongs with the team.
One thing the Canucks cannot seem to stop doing is score goals, and lately they have had contributions from all lines. The Sedins and Alex Burrows, who recently played his 500th career NHL game, have continued to produce goals and other players such as Mason Raymond have stepped up their play and found the back of the net.
However there are some, like Chris Higgins and Ryan Kesler who have been fairly quiet. These players should use the next 19 games to return to their usual playing standards before the playoffs, as everyone has seen how they are capable of drastically changing a playoff series. Last season, Kesler dominated in the second round against the Nashville Predators and as a member of the core group of players on the Canucks, is needed to lead his team to victory.
In the next month, the Canucks will face off against only three teams from the Eastern Conference, and each of these are games to circle on the calendar. The Canucks face off against the Buffalo Sabres and ex-Canuck Christian Ehrhoff on March 3rd before finally competing against the Winnipeg Jets on March 8th. Their last game against an Eastern Conference team before the playoffs is March 10th against the Montreal Canadiens. As well, only five of their next 19 games will be on the road, hopefully giving the team some well-needed rest and relaxation.
Only 19 games left – so few, and yet so many. So much time for something crazy or drastic to happen. One thing is for sure – this team has never seemed more ready to be the champions.