In the first month of the 2021-22 season, the Vancouver Canucks finished with a 3-5-1 record through nine games. The team has had a tough start to the season with a few bright spots. In this series, I will explore the good, the bad and the ugly for the Canucks each month, starting with October 2021.
New Comers Thriving
The Canucks made a few key additions this offseason. Highlighting the group of newcomers are Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Canucks acquired the two in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and three draft picks. Garland has become a fan favourite throughout his first nine games with the team. He has posted three goals and eight points, stepping up in key moments when the team has needed him the most.
Ekman-Larsson has posted a goal and an assist through nine contests. Additionally, he led the team in Corsi for Percentage (CF%) of 54.86 throughout October, while averaging 24:04 time on ice, which was the second most behind Quinn Hughes. The club also added Jason Dickinson from the Dallas Stars for a 2021 third-round pick. Although he has scored one goal in October, he proved to be a useful defensive forward. Through eight games in October, he posted a 52.38 CF%.
So far, Jim Benning’s new additions have not been disappointing and have played well in their first month with the club.
Demko’s Contract Was Worth It
Thatcher Demko signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension midway through last season. He split time with Braden Holtby starting in net throughout the shortened 2020-21 season.
This season the team expected him to take another step and fully take over the crease with Jaroslav Halak as his backup goalie. Through seven games in October, he posted a record of 3-3-1 while posting a .924 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average. He was second in saves in the NHL, stopping 218 of the 236 shots he faced. Although the Canucks have struggled to pick up wins, Demko’s play has been a big reason why the team has been competitive in games this season.
Pettersson’s Slow Start
Elias Pettersson noticeably struggled to put up points in October. Through nine games, he’s scored one goal and posted four points. Pettersson has had a tough time producing at 5-on-5, scoring his only goal and registering two assists on the power play. He finished October with a .44 points per game played(P/GP), down from his career P/GP of .90. He registered a CF% of 49.77, which was sixth among forwards. He has a career CF% of 60.7, which shows the Swedish forward is struggling to play well to start the 2020-21 season.
A slow start isn’t a big deal for Pettersson unless it continues throughout November. The Canucks need their best forward to perform at his best in order to put together a winning season and make it to the postseason.
The Canucks started the season without a few players due to injury. Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte have been out since the start of the season, while Justin Dowling and Matthew Highmore have been placed on Injured Reserve during the season. Brock Boeser missed three games to start the season after he missed the majority of training camp. Lastly, the team also lost Jason Dickinson and Tucker Poolman for a few games.
Besides Boeser missing a few games, the Canucks have lost a lot of bodies on the bottom-six. Sutter and Motte were expected to occupy the fourth line while Highmore and Dowling would swap in and out. Without stability in their bottom six, the team has had to recall other forwards to provide depth scoring. This is an issue as it affects the team’s consistency and chemistry.
Canucks at 5-on-5 and Special Teams
The Canucks had a tough time outproducing their opponents at 5-on-5 throughout October. They scored 12 goals at even strength but allowed 14 against. Additionally, they posted a team CF% of 48.59, a shots for percentage of 47 and an expected goals for percentage of 42.10.
The club has been outplayed at 5-on-5, which makes it tough to win games. What made matters worse for the team is their power play ranked 20th with an 18.8% success rate, while their penalty kill has ranked 27th at 72%. The Canucks will need to improve on all ends, starting with 5-on-5 by controlling the possession of play and creating scoring chances.
Canucks Need to Improve in November
The Canucks will need to step up in November to improve their record. The new additions and Demko will have to continue to play at the level they have throughout October. Meanwhile, Pettersson will have to step up and lead the team as expected of him, which should give the club a boost. Lastly, the team needs to be better at 5-on-5 and on special teams. The club is already off to a good start in November after their come-from-behind win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.