Although just one point separates the Vancouver Canucks from the four-way tie mayhem between the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, and Arizona Coyotes for second place in the Pacific Division, the view from atop must look pretty sweet. It’s been eight years since Vancouver last led their division going into the All-Star break, and as Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Jacob Markstrom get ready to suit up for the festivities in St. Louis, the Canucks will prepare for a road trip that could define their season.
After the break, the Canucks will host the St. Louis Blues before setting off on a five-game road trip that includes the San Jose Sharks in California, followed by a four-game east coast swing where they take on the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, and Minnesota Wild. Although Vancouver has won eight straight at home, their road record is 11-13-1. In order to maintain their momentum in the second half, the Canucks will have to improve their road record. It won’t be an easy task. The five teams the Canucks are facing are a combined 71-33-18 at home this season.
It is imperative to start off the post All-Star games in winning fashion. Every team will have had time to rest, recuperate, and refocus their efforts on a playoff push. Coming up empty-handed is not an option for a team looking to secure their first playoff berth since 2015.
Vs. St. Louis Blues – Jan. 27
Although this is not a road game, taking on the defending Stanley Cup champions is never a walk in the park. Winners of eight straight at Rogers Arena, Vancouver faces one of the league’s better road teams in the Blues, who have a 13-7-4 record in away games this season.
St. Louis sits atop not just the Central Division but the Western Conference. They are eight points ahead of the second place Colorado Avalanche and 10 points clear of the Canucks. This matchup will be a difficult test for a young Canucks team against one of the league’s elite. Goalie Jordan Binnington has been phenomenal this season, posting a .912 save percentage and a 22-8-2 record. Yes, Vladimir Tarasenko is still on injured reserve and will probably not return in the foreseeable future, but David Perron has averaged a point-per-game, Ryan O’Reilly has 34 assists, and defenceman Alex Pietrangelo has 40 points.
All season, the Blues have shown that their Stanley Cup victory was no fluke.
At San Jose Sharks – Jan. 29
Despite sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference, the Sharks have a winning record (13-11-1) on home ice. Logan Couture is out with a fractured left ankle but the Sharks will still be looking for revenge after their loss to the Canucks on Jan. 18.
Vancouver needs to and should win this game. The Sharks are lottery bound, but with players like Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, Brent Burns, and Timo Meier still on the roster, they are capable of winning on any given night.
At New York Islanders – Feb. 1
Second up on the road trip, and the first east coast team the Canucks face, are the Islanders. With a 15-7-3 home record this season, the Islanders rank third in the Metropolitan Division. Like the Canucks, the Islanders’ winning streak (10 games between Oct. 12 and Nov. 5) has been the defining storyline of their season so far.
The Islanders’ goaltending has been solid with Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss’ 28-14-4 combined record. Varlamov has assumed the role of starter, but Griess has been the better goalie on home ice this season, going 8-2-0. Mathew Barzal leads the Isles with 40 points (17 goals).
Since they lost captain John Tavares two seasons ago, the Islanders have grown as a team. This season, they have eight players above the 20-point mark. Their well-rounded scoring, successful roster construction, and hiring Barry Trotz as head coach before the 2018-19 season can be credited to president and GM Lou Lamoriello.
The Canucks have not yet played the Islanders this season. During the 2018-19 campaign, the Canucks dropped both games including a shutout loss.
At Carolina Hurricanes – Feb. 2
On the second night of their back-to-back, the Canucks will take on the Hurricanes. Currently in a wild card spot, the Hurricanes have been hot on home ice with a 15-8-1 record. Petr Mrazek has put up a .909 save percentage and has gone 13-6-0 at PNC Arena.
The Hurricanes will be without All-Star Dougie Hamilton who recently broke a bone in his left leg. Hamilton was tied for second in goals and fourth in points among NHL defensemen, posting 14 goals and 26 assists in 47 games. It’s unknown how long he will be out.
Luckily, the ‘Canes still have some bright spots on their roster with Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Sebastian Aho all above 40 points. These three young forwards have revitalized a team that had not qualified for the playoffs since 2009 before last year’s Conference Final run. Although Hamilton’s absence will be felt on the defensive end, the Hurricanes might be able to score their way to some victories or shore up their blue line through a trade.
At Boston Bruins – Feb. 4
The Bruins are the top team in the Atlantic Division with a 28-10-12 record. Their record at TD Garden is a blistering 16-2-9; the two regulation losses were against the Oilers and Avalanche. David Pastrnak leads the team with 68 points and Brad Marchand has 64. Pastrnak is also tied with Nathan MacKinnon for third in NHL points while Marchand is sixth. Tuukka Rask is 10-0-6, undefeated in regulation at home.
The Bruins are the toughest team that the Canucks will play on this road trip. They have been dominant at home all season. They are second in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the conferencing-leading Washington Capitals and will be looking to cement their place as the best team in the Atlantic, if not Eastern Conference.
At Minnesota Wild – Feb. 6
The last team the Canucks face before heading back to Rogers Arena is the Wild. Minnesota is 22-21-6 on the season but have an impressive 12-6-4 record on home ice. Alex Stalock, who has been sharing goaltending duties with Devan Dubnyk, is a notable 7-2-1 when suiting up at Xcel Energy Center. Stalock lost his last outing on Jan. 20 against the Florida Panthers who scored with 5.4 seconds left in regulation. He will look to regain his form when he next takes the crease.
This is a game the Canucks should win. A victory in Minnesota would give them a little more breathing room above a Wild team that, depending on how they do before the trade deadline, could be challenging for a wild card spot. As of now, the Wild are fighting to get back in the playoff race, but it seems improbable that they will make a surge to get into the postseason.
What would a successful trip look like? If the Canucks can go 3-2-1 over their next six games they will be in a great position going into their six-game homestand in February. Earning 7 of 12 points would be a considerable feat considering their road record so far.
How can the Canucks achieve this? Playing on the road is never easy and the Canucks find it much harder to win on the road than at home this season. They will need is consistency in net, solid and sound play from their defencemen, and high percentage scoring chances from their forwards. Much easier said than done.