This post also appears on Canucks Hockey Blog.
The Canucks have started the second half of the season by picking up four out of a possible six points in their first three games of a four-game road trip, starting with that memorable tilt against the Boston Bruins last Saturday. As we look ahead to the team’s five remaining games before the all-star break, here are some Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:
1. Coach Alain Vigneault’s decisions. Technically, this is a “non-hmmm” instead of a “hmmm” as Alain Vigneault once again has the club near the top of the overall standings (albeit with a few more games played than every other contender… more on that below). Once in a while, AV will do something that gets us talking and scratching our heads such as starting Schneider over Luongo in Boston, limiting Cody Hodgson’s minutes, or juggling his lines before they seemingly have a chance to gel. But you simply can’t argue with results. Since his first season with the Canucks in 2006-2007, Vigneault has amassed a regular-season coaching record of 263-147-44 (through Tuesday night’s win over Tampa Bay) – good for a winning percentage of .628. Throw in a Jack Adams Award in his first season, and you can legitimately argue that he’s been the Canucks most successful coach. And to think, he likely wouldn’t be here right now if Luongo didn’t stop Patrick Sharp in overtime in game 7 of last year’s first-round playoff series against the Blackhawks.
2. The type of team that makes a Stanley Cup Champion. I was intrigued by an interview I heard yesterday on the Team 1040 with Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis. He mentioned that he has tried to build the Canucks based on the Detroit Red Wings, arguably the most consistent team over the last decade: a fast-skating and highly skilled team that’s hard to play against. He also alluded to wanting to tinker with the “balance” of the line-up (he was quick to deny saying he wanted the team to be “tougher”). This got me thinking of what kind of teams actually go on to win the Stanley Cup. The 2007 Anaheim Ducks were big and bruising. The 2008 Detroit Red Wings and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins had line-ups littered with highly-skilled players and with just enough “sandpaper” (think Holmstrom, McCarty, Cooke, Talbot and that goon Malkin who had 51 PIM in the 2009 playoffs). The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks had both skill and toughness (Byfuglien, Bolland, Eager) and we all know about the 2011 Boston Bruins. So when Mike Gillis says he’s looking for more balance as opposed to toughness, I think it’s safe to say that he’s looking for toughness. Our collection of top nine forwards is among the most-skilled in club history, but as a group, do they have enough grit and sandpaper? Kesler and Burrows certainly play hard and are tough to play against but they certainly don’t strike fear into opponents. Will Lapierre, Malhotra and Weise as our fourth line be enough? I don’t think so. Look for Gillis to make move before or at the trading deadline.
3. Stupefying scheduling. Heading into tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues, the Canucks are tied with four other teams for most games played at 44. So while it’s nice to see the team atop the Western Conference standings, one quickly realizes that the team would be anywhere from first to fifth if the top five teams had all played the same number of games up until now. The discrepancy is magnified even more when comparing the Canucks to the Eastern Conference, as the Rangers are one point ahead but with 4 games in hand and Boston is only two points behind with five games in hand. It’s not a huge deal as things will obviously even out by the end of the season. And I know that there are many mitigating factors such as arena availability. I guess I’m just lazy and find myself reluctantly calculating best and worst case scenarios with respect to the teams chasing the Canucks to get a “more accurate” picture of the standings. Speaking of evening out, after tonight’s game, the Canucks will have played their sixth game in 11 nights (including three in their last four). Contrast that to the next two weeks, where the Canucks will play only four games in the next 12 days. Throw in the all-star break and the Canucks only have five games left in the remaining 19 days in January.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. I’m still trying to confirm the rumours that Bruins forward Brad Marchand is sporting a new tattoo that says “SUSPENSIAN.” Hmmm.