The Canucks are now over half way through the 82-game 2014-15 season, with 37 more games left. What follows is four good things and four bad things about the Canucks and the way they have played so far this season.
1. Ryan Miller
Goalie Ryan Miller has played very well lately; on January 15th and 16th he reported back-to-back shutouts against Philadelphia and Carolina, his second set of back-to-back shutouts this season (the first on November 25th and 28th). With a .918 save percentage and 2.30 goals against average, Miller has served as a dependable starter and replacement for Roberto Luongo. Back-up goalie Eddie Lack has struggled at times in the few games he has played this season, and having a veteran goaltender on the roster like Miller has definitely been to the Canucks’ advantage.
2. The Penalty Kill
Going into the NHL All-Star break, the Canucks’ penalty kill was ranked second in the NHL at 88.3% (only 0.1% behind the top-ranked Chicago Blackhawks). Especially good on the road, the Canucks’ penalty kill has been solid and aggressive in terms of positioning and blocking shots. The Canucks have many players on their roster for whom the penalty kill is one of their strengths, such as Jannik Hansen, Alex Burrows, Nick Bonino, Chris Tanev, and Brad Richardson. Their game plan for the penalty kill has been organized by assistant coach Glen Gulutzan,
3. The Off-Season Gains
Over last summer, GM Jim Benning acquired many new players for the Canucks, and most of them have met or exceeded expectations. Radim Vrbata has been a good fit with the Sedin twins and on the powerplay; he leads the Canucks in goals with 18. Derek Dorsett fulfills his role as a fourth-liner well, with a relentless work ethic and aggressive fore-check; he fulfills the role of the Canucks “tough guy” while still playing a clean game. Other new players, like Nick Bonino, Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, Linden Vey, and Luca Sbisa have all struggled at some point this season, but have also had moments of great success. Finally, as mentioned above, Ryan Miller has served as a dependable, experienced goaltender for the team.
4. Alex Edler and Chris Tanev
It is no secret that the Alex Edler of this season is not the Alex Edler of last season. Both Edler and his defence partner Chris Tanev have logged top ice time for the team and have secured spots as the Canucks’ top two defenders. While there was concern over the loss of defender Dan Hamhuis to injury earlier this season, Edler and Tanev took on their added responsibility well, as Edler has rebounded from a bad season and Tanev has found his place as a top NHL defender. Hamhuis is back, but now the Canucks have to face the loss of defender Kevin Bieksa to injury. To read more about Edler and Tanev, see here: https://insidehockey.com/edler-and-tanev-the-nucks-top-two-defenders/
1. The Scoring Slumps
There are only four Canucks who have hit double digits in terms of goals: Burrows, Hansen and Bonino each have 10 and Vrbata, as mentioned, leads with 18. While it is nice to see Vrabata have success, it would also be nice for the Canucks to have more than one consistent goal-scorer. Players like the Sedins, Bonino, Burrows, Higgins and Vey, who have been expected and/or projected to score more have all experienced scoring slumps at some point this season. As well, through mid-December and early January, the Canucks had a few worrying three to five game stretches in which they struggled to score. The Canucks have seen little offence from their defence also.
2. Zack Kassian
Public opinion of Zack Kassian wavers along with his play – when he is playing that is. He was sidelined earlier this season for 13 games with a broken finger. In the games he has played (24), he has two goals, three assists and 30 penalty minutes, and he his far from the player that he expected to be. Kassian showed promising glimpses of the power forward he could be in previous seasons with the Canucks, but has yet to sustain that type of play long enough to make a difference and an impression. It has been reported that the Canucks staff, including Benning, are not impressed with the young player in terms of both play and attitude this season.
Bo Horvat has been the one good thing about the Canucks’ face-offs, but he is the rookie of the team – what about the veterans, the experienced NHLers who have held the job of taking face-offs for years? Ever since the departure of Manny Malhotra, who is leading the NHL in face-off percentage, the Canucks have struggled, with no players in the NHL’s top 30 face-off leaders. Matthias wins approximately 54.2% of the face-offs he takes, Henrik Sedin 47.9%, and Bonino 47.5%.
4. A Lack of Derek Dorsetts
There has been some talk about the Canucks’ lack of so-called “tough guys.” Derek Dorsett fills that role well, and is the only enforcer – if you can even call him that – on the team who plays regularly. Tom Sestito has not played a lot with the Canucks this season (only three games) and so Dorsett is the main go-to “tough guy” for the Canucks. Ever since the Canucks were pushed around by the Boston Bruins in the 2011 playoffs, there has been concern about whether or not the are Canucks “tough” enough to win a Stanley Cup. Dorsett, as seen above, is very good at what he does – he hits, he kills penalties, he is a top fore-checker, and he does it all cleanly. A few more players like him couldn’t hurt, but at the same time this topic brings up the question of whether or not teams actually need enforcers to have success.