The Vancouver Canucks are on a hot streak that has moved the team solidly into a playoff position. They’ve won five games in a row, including recent back-to-back games where they beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at home and then won 5-2 on the road against the Calgary Flames.
In short, good things are happening for the team and they’ve passed every other team in the Pacific Division except the Vegas Golden Knights who have 42 points to the Canucks 40, but Vancouver has played two fewer games.
As the team gets ready for a small break and a two-game homestand, I want to keep Canucks fans up-to-date on news and rumors from the organization.
Item One: Power-Play, First-Period, and Faceoff Dominance
There are three things about this season’s Canucks. First, the team’s power play is amazing. Second, the Canucks score lots of first-period goals. Third, they’re great in the faceoff circle.
In their 40 games this season, the team has generated 148 power-play opportunities, scoring 39 goals on those chances. Both numbers rank first in the NHL. Against the Flames, the Canucks scored twice on the power play in six tries. The team’s power-play success rate is 26.4 percent, which ranks fourth. The Canucks have also scored 45 first period goals, which leads the NHL.
To me, an interesting statistic looking at the score sheet for both back-to-back games was the Canucks’ dominance in the faceoff circle. Against the Kings, they won 33 faceoffs and lost only 20; and, against the Flames, they did even better and won 43, losing 20. Veteran Jay Beagle wins more faceoffs than he loses (against the Kings he won 9 of 11); however, Bo Horvat’s faceoff skills are amazing. Against the Flames he won 17 of 20, and 13 of 22 against the Kings.
Item Two: Demko’s Showing No Lingering Concussion Effects
Thatcher Demko won in his first game back and allowed only two goals on 25 shots against the Flames. Demko had missed three weeks and seven games with a concussion. The team gave him all the support he needed, taking an early 3-0 lead in the first period and not letting the Flames come back.
With the victory, the 24-year-old Demko has an 8-4-1 record, with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. Other than a late November game, when he was overwhelmed by the Pittsburgh Penguins and gave up 7 goals on 39 shots, Demko’s been solid for the season. He had a red-hot start and a three-game winning streak after the Penguins’ debacle. He and Jacob Markstrom have given the team good goalie play this season.
Item Three: Virtanen Is Having His Best Season
After scoring his 11th goal of the season against the Kings, Jake Virtanen’s power-play goal against the Flames was his 12th. He also scored a power-play assist. The 23-year-old now has five goals and three assists in his last eight games and 23 points in 40 games for the season. He should easily beat the career-high of 25 points he scored last season.
The 23-year-old Virtanen also has five power-play points this year, all being scored in his last seven games. To my eye as I’ve watched Canucks games, the young forward has found his game after a rougher start to his NHL career than fans expected. As the sixth-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, much was expected of the Vancouver-area native. He’s getting better.
Item Four: Tyler Myers Finally Scores
One of my biggest surprises with the Canucks this season has been the lack of scoring from one of the tallest defensemen in the NHL – Tyler Myers. Myers hasn’t played poorly, but I expected he’d add more to the scoring – especially on the Canucks’ power play. As I noted earlier, the power play’s been a Canucks’ strength, but until the Flames’ game, Myers hadn’t impacted the score sheet for much of that success.
That changed against the Flames, and Myers scored two goals and an assist in the team’s 5-2 road victory. His scoring seems to be warming up, which can only help his team. Although he only has three goals and 13 points this season, all three goals and six of the assists have come in his last 11 games.
Myers has played beside Hughes and logged time on the second power-play unit all season so, as I noted, he should have more points. He might miss the 30-point mark for the first time since 2016-17. In that injury-filled season, he only played 11 games.
Item Five: Pettersson Reaches the 40-point Mark
Against the Kings, high-scoring sophomore Elias Pettersson scored another game-winning goal in the Canucks 3-2 win. Although he didn’t score against the Flames, his two-point game against the Kings pushed him to 41 points in 40 games for the season. The 21-year-old Swede has five game-winning goals this season and has multiple points in three of his last five games.
Item Six: Baertschi Cleared Waivers
I am both surprised and personally sad that Sven Baertschi, after a tough last season with concussion issues, didn’t find a home with this season’s team. Just prior to Christmas, he cleared waivers again when no other team picked him up. That he has another season left on his $3.366 million contract can’t help.
It also doesn’t help that the Canucks salary-cap issues prevent them from retaining any of his salary. There’re certainly teams who should be interested in Baertschi, but not at his full salary. So, he’ll likely stay with the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets for the remainder of the season unless injuries hit the team hard.
Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning would like to see Baertschi return to the NHL somewhere and has “been talking to Sven’s agent since the start of the year — once or twice a week — to try and figure out any scenario where he can get back to playing in the NHL. We talked the other day and put Sven on waivers again.” (from “Benning sounds alarm for Canucks to turn game around,” Ben Kuzma, The Vancouver Province, 12/16/19)
What’s Next For the Canucks?
The Canucks play two games to start the new year, starting with the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 2 and the New York Rangers on Jan. 4. Jacob Markstrom will likely start in goal against the Blackhawks.
It will be interesting to see if the team can extend its power-play success. Rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes reached the 25-assist mark against the Flames and could reach the 50-point mark for the season. He’s one of the main reasons the team’s special teams are so good this season.