The Vancouver Canucks are a team stuck in the middle. They aren’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup but with the additions of Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata, they should be competitive enough to challenge for a playoff spot, even in the ridiculous Western Conference.
Every team that barely misses the playoffs always looks back on their schedule and points out a few games where 2 points would have been invaluable. Vancouver may be on the outside of the playoff picture come April, therefore to avoid this fate the Canucks must win these incredibly important match-ups.
December 22, 2014 at Home Versus the Arizona Coyotes
Let’s forget about the first couple months of the season for a moment. A hot start is always important, but a winning record through November isn’t always indicative of if that team is a playoff contender or not. Just look at the 2013/14 Philadelphia Flyers.
The Arizona Coyotes will be a team directly battling the Canucks for the final couple of playoff spots and the December 22nd matchup at Rogers Arena is the second meeting of the season between the two clubs.
The reason this game is a must win for Vancouver has as much to do with its date as it does with the opponent. The 22nd is the Canucks’ final home game before a mini Christmas break, as well as before a very tough road swing through Anaheim and San Jose. It is also the final contest of a 4 game home stand.
The Canucks will have to take care of business at home and take 2 points from a direct competitor in order to create momentum heading into the New Year. Vancouver will also need these 2 points because they will be much more difficult to come by against Anaheim or San Jose.
January 1, 2015 at Home Versus the Los Angeles Kings
Before New Years Eve last season, the Vancouver Canucks were 23-11-7 and the John Tortorella hire seemed like it was going to work out.
Then January 2014 happened.
Vancouver would go onto lose 7 of their first 8 games of the year and never seemed to recover from the 7 game losing streak at the end of January and beginning of February.
Last year’s stretch to open 2014 is what makes the January 1, 2015 contest against L.A. so important. The Canucks open the New Year with a visit from the defending Stanley Cup Champions in a game Vancouver has to win.
They need to win to show the rest of the NHL they are competitive enough against the best competition in the league by taking 2 points from a Pacific Division rival. This game also opens a 5 game home stand after the aforementioned California road swing and the Kings are the toughest team on the docket.
If Vancouver wins this game it will give them the confidence that they can win the rest of the games on this key home stand and the knowledge that last year’s losing streak was an aberration. If the Canucks start 2015 like they did 2014, the media and fans will begin to draw comparisons to last year’s debacle and the pressure would be suffocating.
March 28, 2015 at Home Versus the Dallas Stars
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) August 5, 2014
The March 28th game against Dallas is the finale of a 3 game home stretch that features contests against Winnipeg and Colorado. I really could have put all three games on this list but the Stars game is key because it offers the Vancouver Canucks either a chance to sweep the home stand or to salvage points, depending on how the first two games go.
The Dallas game is also more important because it’s the Stars. Down the stretch the Canucks will have to take points from teams ahead of them as Vancouver will most likely be chasing a playoff spot rather than holding onto one. Winnipeg will be below Vancouver in the standings and the Avalanche, to the probable surprise of many, will be far too ahead for the Canucks to catch.
That leaves Dallas. The Stars, despite all the hoopla surrounding Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky joining Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, might end up being the Western Conference’s Washington Capitals. Dallas has some solid pieces on the back end but the defence does not possess enough quality to stymie the top offenses of the West. Vancouver will be within striking distance of Dallas towards the end of the season and the Canucks will need these 2 points in order to hopefully pass the Stars in the standings.
The Canucks go on a 4 game road swing right after this home stand and marginal playoffs teams must win the key games at home, especially when the stretch run features contests against St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles.
If the Canucks do squeak into the playoff picture next season then they would have come away from each of these contests with 2 incredibly important points.
Andrew Jow is an English student at Simon Fraser University where he covered the SFU Men’s Hockey team. Andrew is a Vancouver native and covers all things NHL for The Hockey Writers. Follow him on Twitter @MadJowDisease