Christmas Canucks: Evaluating Vancouver's 2013 Season, So Far...
As a fan, I'm confused. Sometimes disappointed, and more than a little annoyed that my team – the Vancouver Canucks, duh – could be playing the way they're playing while still teetering on the edge.
Most of this is their own doing. They went through a tail spin in November, somehow losing games they dominated in the shot count and, it seemed, in possession.
Then, they righted the ship, finally adding Double-You's to their game that has been, since mid-October, just fine. But seven wins in a row and inspiring victories over both Boston and Chicago – games that each meant a lot more than just two points – could only catapult them into sixth in the West, where they currently sit.
And they're dangerously close to eighth, because the West is the best and it's really not even close. This you already know, but Vancouver has only a five point lead on eighth-place Phoenix and has played three more games. The Wild are hovering there in ninth, and the Stars and their 18-12 win-loss record have only amounted to a 10th-place bucket seat.
It's hard for every team between the Pacific Ocean and Detroit, and maybe my Canucks aren't the only team that leaves its fans feeling the way I do... the way of, "This team really is one of the best in the National Hockey League, but will anyone ever know it? And what do we have to show for it?"
I'm more confident about the playoffs with John Tortorella as the team's hefe, but that 'confidence' could be wiped out as soon as the seedings are ironed out in April.
And what if the Canucks don't even make it there?
Honestly, if they're not going to topple Anaheim, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, or San Jose for one of those first five seeds, is it really so inconceivable that they could play exceptional hockey and still draw ninth?
No. It's perfectly realistic, actually.
But I'm not complaining. I'm not lamenting the East-West thing, because that's how the game has shaken out and it really is completely fair. I wasn't whining when Vancouver was falling asleep at the wheel and somehow winning back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back Northwest Division titles, where our only challengers rotated between the occasional Calgary and hit-or-miss Minnesota, so I can't whine now. Detroit hasn't taken its two decades of supremacy to the East this season, while the Canucks have whupped Boston, Washington, and Toronto (yeeeaaaaahhhhhh) but been plastered by the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers (nope). There's little rhyme or rhythm to any of this, and I can at least enjoy the somewhat inaccurate feeling that the Canucks are stronger because they're in the West, like every other club from first to 10th in their bracket.
The positives? Of course, it would be Mike Santorelli, who's the leader of a bargain bin-bred group of new and surprisingly stellar Canucks like injured rookie d-man Ryan Stanton, rookie goalie Eddie Lack, and L.A. castoff Brad Richardson. Roberto Luongo has played, perhaps, better than he ever has for Vancouver, and Ryan Kesler and the Sedin twins have led the way you'd expect them to, the way Tortorella needs them to.
The Canucks have also had a well of offence, with its cast dividing up the scoring into nice, well-timed clumps. Kesler's 15 goals lead the team, but Chris Higgins has turned a opportunity for increased ice time into 11 goals and 11 assists, Santorelli has arrived with 26 points, and the defence has been as productive as any year's past version. Jason Garrison leads that way with 23 points from the blueline, backed up by Kevin Bieksa (14 points), Chris Tanev (12), Stanton (11), and Dan Hamhuis (10).
The negatives? Well, is it Alex Burrows's three points or is it Alex Burrows's 22 missed games? It is Alex Edler's injury or Alex Edler's play when healthy? There's that Luongo cloud, too. The goalie tweaked something in Vancouver's win over Winnipeg on Sunday, and luckily we won't have to consider his schedule until play resumes on December 29 in Calgary.
But the negatives and the positives both seem a little moot, because Vancouver has been playing incredibly well and nobody's convinced of anything.
Even during their post-Halloween slump, the Canucks were really playing incredibly well. And incredibly well has led them to the bubble, a bubble that only an eighth-place Los Angeles has ever turned into a championship, and – even then – they had to luck out with a playoff slate of soft meat like New Jersey, Phoenix, St. Louis, and (yes) Vancouver.
The Canucks are 22-11-6. They've won nine of their last 11. They've either peaked or they're finding their groove.
And, you have to wonder whether it means anything that they've turned it around without Burrows or Edler. Does that speak to their depth, or does it speak to the pointlessness of the whole show?
But hey, it's Christmas. We don't have to worry about it until January. But worry about it, I will.