Canucks: 5 Takeaways From the First 10 Games

After only ten games, the Vancouver Canucks have already seen their fair share of ups and downs. After a relatively successful six-game road trip that saw them finish with a record of 3-2-1, they returned to the friendly confines of Rogers Arena only to lose their first three at home in regulation. On a long seven-game homestand that was supposed to be perfectly set up to rake in wins, they started with an 0-3 record.

Related: Canucks’ Good, Bad & Ugly in October 2021

Fortunately, the Canucks had Thatcher Demko in goal for the game against the New York Rangers on Tuesday because he was the sole reason why we aren’t still talking about a winless record on home ice right now. All in all, the 2021-22 season has been an interesting journey, to say the least. So without further ado, here are five takeaways from the first ten that have the Canucks one game under .500 with a record of 4-5-1.

Demko Continues His Ascent Into the NHL’s Elite

It’s no secret that the Canucks have struggled to find their legs early this season. The one guy that has not is their starting goaltender Thatcher Demko. In every game, win or lose, he has looked calm and in control, from the minute the puck dropped to the sound of the final buzzer. He has even channeled his inner Dominik Hasek and made saves without his blocker and stick while flailing around on the ice. The scorpion save he made on Artemi Panarin was nothing short of amazing as he made three saves he had no business in making. Game-saving saves don’t even begin to describe that sequence of events.

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Demko’s performance against the Rangers just put an exclamation point on the season he is having so far. Despite not posting a win in every start, his numbers have looked very solid early on. Over eight starts, he has a 2.48 goals-against average, and .923 save percentage (SV%) while facing the second-most high danger shots in the NHL. As of this writing, he has faced 61, which is only eight back of Vegas Golden Knights’ starter Robin Lehner who has faced 69. What’s even more impressive is his .885 SV% in those situations.

Basically, he’s been the Canucks’ best player night in and night out. Without him, they probably would be in the basement with the Arizona Coyotes. That’s no exaggeration, he’s been that good.

Garland, Poolman and Ekman-Larsson Impress Early

Speaking of the Coyotes, former desert dogs Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have looked very good rocking the orca so far in 2021-22. Garland currently trails only J.T. Miller in scoring with three goals and ten points in ten games, Ekman-Larsson has excelled on the top pairing with the often-criticized Tyler Myers and Tucker Poolman has fit in nicely with the dynamic Quinn Hughes as well.

Related: 5 Cool Things About Conor Garland

Garland, in particular, has come as advertised as a shifty forward who knows what it takes to get under the skin of his opponent. He not only generates offence with somewhat limited ice time, but he also frustrates the heck out of the other team’s top players. After only ten games, the words “angry little elf” and “midget” have come out of the mouths of Travis Konecny and Filip Zadina respectively. He just seems to have that knack for agitation that Canucks fans haven’t seen since the days of Alex Burrows and Jarkko Ruutu. Because of this, he’s instantly become a fan favourite in Vancouver.

Conor Garland, Vancouver Canucks
Conor Garland, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Poolman, whose contract caught the ire of Canucks fans for being too pricey, has more than lived up to the money he’s getting paid this season. At what I consider a bargain $2.5 million contract, he has filled in admirably for Travis Hamonic and Chris Tanev as Hughes’ partner in crime and could actually become just as good as Tanev was for the Canucks. That’s high praise considering how much he did for the team over the years.

Quinn Hughes Has Transformed Into a Two-Way Force

After taking a step back defensively last season, Quinn Hughes has started the 2021-22 campaign as one of, if not the best two-way defenceman the Canucks have right now. Often deployed against the other team’s top offensive players like Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin, Hughes has excelled to the tune of seven points in nine games and more importantly, a plus-5 in the plus/minus column. Considering his pairing has seen the most scoring chances against than any other pairing, that stat is even more important to note.

Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When Hughes was out of the lineup against the Buffalo Sabres, the defence core struggled to maintain any sort of cohesion. That just shows how important he is to the success of this team. Basically, he is the glue that holds it together. Without him, it falls apart. Look no further than the two games he’s missed in his career if you need some recent examples. If he continues to improve throughout the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the conversation for the Norris Trophy.

Special Teams Have Struggled

Too many times this season have the Canucks lost games because of their special teams’ inability to either score on the power play or prevent a goal on the penalty kill. As of this writing, they rank 28th on the penalty kill with an abysmal 70 percent success rate and 24th on the power play with an equally disappointing 15.8 percent success rate. If they hope to be in the conversation of playoff teams in April, both of those stats have to start going in a positive direction very soon.

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The power play, which is led by the likes of Hughes, Pettersson, Miller, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser shouldn’t have a problem scoring goals. Unfortunately for the Canucks, they are having a heck of a time producing offence in every situation, and that includes the power play. After moving on from assistant coach Newell Brown who ran the power play during the successful years of the Sedin twins, new coach Jason King hasn’t been able to get everyone on the same page since taking over.

Jason King, assistant coach of the Vancouver Canucks
Jason King, assistant coach of the Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Through ten games, the Canucks not only lack puck movement and creativity, but also execution and the ability to simply get shots through to the goaltender. If not for Demko’s heroics against the Rangers, the 0/6 power play would have been the primary reason why they ended up losing another game.

As for the penalty kill, it just continues to bleed goals. Over the last two games, the Canucks have allowed four power play goals and have only killed three out of seven power plays. On the season, they have allowed nine goals which rank them in the bottom half of the league. With Hamonic back and Tyler Motte not too far behind, the hope will be that their additions to the lineup will help prop up a penalty kill that has been beyond mediocre so far.

Slow Starts and Horrible First Periods

Ever since the days of Willie Desjardins, the Canucks have struggled with slow starts and scoring the first goal. They only have 393 first-period goals since 2014-15 and have only scored the first goal 222 times in 545 games. To put that in perspective, only the Vegas Golden Knights have scored the first goal fewer times and they have only been in the NHL for five seasons.

Travis Green, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks
Travis Green, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This issue has plagued the Canucks for a long time and it hasn’t gotten any better in 2021-22. To date, they have only scored the first goal twice and have allowed the ice breaker eight times. Chasing the game is never good, and they have done it far too often this season. In fact, the first period hasn’t been kind to them in general as they have been outscored 10-4 and have trailed going into the second period more often than not. To get into the realm of the elite teams, they have to figure out a way to get out of the blocks quicker and start controlling games rather than letting the other team dictate the pace.

Demko & Miller’s Heroics Could Be a Turning Point

If the Canucks start playing better hockey from here on out, the game against the Rangers and Demko’s game-saving save along with Miller’s heroics in overtime will be pointed to as the turning point of the season. Yes, it’s early, but a jolt of positivity and things finally going right after a few games of futility could be the thing that puts them on an upward trajectory.

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The regular season is all about ebbs and flows and the Canucks needed something to put them back on track. Demko has provided solid goaltending all season, but that save was just magic. It gave me flashbacks to the saves by Kirk McLean and Roberto Luongo and even though Demko’s took place only ten games in, it could end up being pivotal to their overall success this season. We will just have to see what happens as the fun continues on Friday against the Nashville Predators.

All stats were taken from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com