The Vancouver Canucks have been the best regular season team in the NHL the two seasons preceding this one. That regular season success, which includes two straight President’s Trophy wins, has yet to pay off in the big prize at the end. This season the team has struggled with injuries and inconsistency and have been overlooked by many NHL pundits.
Slowly, and quietly, they have started to resemble their old selves however and just might be poised to make a big post season run.
Last season the Los Angeles Kings underachieved for the balance of the regular season only to get hot the last month and tear through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Can the Canucks pull off a similar feat?
There are some similarities.
During the 2011-2012 regular season the Kings struggled on offense, only averaging 2.29 goals per game. They played stellar defense and Jonathan Quick was a brick wall in net. They made a move at the trade deadline to bring in Jeff Carter in hopes of boosting their goal scoring ability. That move paid off and the Kings scored more in the playoffs.
During their run they upped their goals per game average to 2.85 goals per game, the best in the league and with Quick taking his game to an even higher level, ran through the league.
The Canucks have struggled to score all year. They were the top goal scoring team in the NHL last year and for most of the season struggled to score consistently. There were many reason for that decline. The Canucks power play sunk from the league’s elite to the bottom which has led to fewer goals scored.
Vancouver has also suffered a great deal of key injuries. They have seen lost games by Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins, David Booth, Chris Tanev, Kevin Bieksa, Zack Kassian and Mayson Raymond. Those are all key players in the Canucks mix and have led to their up and down season.
Despite the lowered scoring Cory Schneider has taken over the number one spot in net and has been red hot, similar to Quick last year. He has flat out stolen games over the past couple of months and seems to be in playoff form.
Turning it Around?
Like Los Angeles the Canucks made a key move at the NHL trade deadline. They picked up Derek Roy to give them some more offensive punch and help them at center. Since Roy has joined the club the Canucks have scored four or more goals in five out of their last six games — something they only managed seven times this season prior.
While Roy has been a big part of their offensive resurgence (three points in six games) so has the return of Ryan Kesler. Kesler is one of the Canucks most valuable players and his return has sparked the club to more consistent play of late. With Kesler back, and Roy in the fold, head coach Alain Vigneault has more options than he had previously.
Last night against the Predators he played the two of them together and the experience seemed to work as the two combined for three goals and four points. They have also been boosted by the return of Kasian, Raymond and are expecting Tanev and Higgins to return in time for the playoffs.
When the playoffs started last year nobody was giving the Kings much of a chance. You would be hard pressed to find many who have Vancouver with a shot of making a similar run.
Can the Canucks pull off a Kings like run this spring? They have many of the pieces in place. They have stingy goaltending, a resurgent offense and a defense that can clamp down when they need to. Most of the attention in the West has rightfully been placed on the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, but don’t be surprised if Vancouver proves to be the team to beat.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.