As the Vancouver Canucks move into the All-Star break, they’ve accomplished something few hockey people – or even their most optimistic fans – might have predicted. They’re in first place in the Pacific Division. Their 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 18 moved the team one point over the team’s four closest Pacific rivals. The Canucks now have 58 points, which is one more than the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Arizona Coyotes.
In this post I want to keep Canucks fans up to date on the recent news and rumors emerging from the team and the organization.
Item One: Horvat’s Having a Strong January
Bo Horvat made the score sheet yet again in the win over the Sharks, but his presence was felt beyond his single assist. He was strong in the faceoff circle all night long and won 15 of 21 draws. In fact, the Canucks dominated in the faceoff circle all night, time after time beating the Sharks in that on-ice skill.
At the game’s end, the team totals showed that the Canucks won 31 faceoffs and lost only 19. It got to the point where I kept wondering why Sharks’ goalie Aaron Dell would even stop play in his own end rather than trying to move the puck. He had to know his team would likely lose the draw and put him under fire.
Horvat now has 12 points in nine games since the start of January and 42 points in 49 games this season. He’s wearing the mantle of captain well.
Item Two: Pettersson Is Playing Through Tough Defense
During the past two games I’ve watched the Canucks play, one thing I’ve watched is how tough other teams play Elias Pettersson. He simply doesn’t seem to be given much open ice, but I’m thinking that the way opponents play him must open the ice for Pettersson’s teammates.
Despite being covered well, the shifty young Swede is still flourishing and keeps scoring. In the Sharks victory, he scored an assist on J.T. Miller’s beautiful third-period goal. Pettersson now has scored three goals and seven assists in his last nine games and sits at 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 49 games.
Item Three: Congratulations to Adam Gaudette for Reaching 100 NHL Games
Gaudette scored two assists in the 4-1 win over the Sharks. In my mind, one reason the Canucks have played well during the first part of the season has been the play of Adam Gaudette. Given that, when the season opened, he moved up and down between the Canucks and the team’s American Hockey League affiliate Utica Comets, the fact he’s captured and held a regular roster spot on this team is a testament to his skill, hard work, and enthusiasm. He’s earned his ice time.
It’s easy to forget that Gaudette was probably moved too quickly last season to the big club, and played 56 games in 2018-19 (scoring only 12 points the entire season). What a difference a season makes. Although he plays mostly on the third line with second-unit power play minutes, he’s playing confidently. The Sharks game was his 100th NHL game. This season, the Northeastern University (in Boston) alumnus has 21 points in 39 games.
Item Four: Hughes Is Absolutely Dominating the Game
There are two things I notice about Quinn Hughes: first, he just seems to get better every game and second he’s simply not a very big guy.
During one Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) intermission, former Sharks goalie and now commentator Kelly Hrudey narrated a great montage of Hughes’ passes during the game – all, as Hrudey noted, tape-to-tape. Hughes just seems to be dominating the on-ice flow of games.
Then, in the windup after the game, the HNIC crew interviewed the 20-year-old Hughes. He simply is quite a small man (at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds) and seems so young. Obviously, his looks belie his skill as a defenseman.
Hughes scored an even-strength goal during the third period, which is rare for him. It was only the second five-on-five goal of his young career. He now has 34 points (five goals and 29 assists), in 48 games. He’s been value-added to the team.
Item Five: Virtanen Keeps Scoring
During the 4-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 14, Jake Virtanen caused a stir when Jets’ player Mathieu Perreault accused him of playing dirty by giving him an elbow. Perreault was especially angry the NHL didn’t give Virtanen any punishment for the hit.
Obviously, all the controversy hasn’t fazed Virtanen in the least. He’s continued to play well and added two assists in the win over the Sharks. In fact, his strong play is being rewarded and he was moved into Brock Boeser’s place on the top line. His pass on J.T. Miller’s goal was a thing of beauty.
Virtanen now has 28 points (14 goals and 14 assists) in 49 games this season. Last season was the 23-year-old’s best career season and he scored 25 points in 70 games. He’s easily beat that total with 33 games remaining.
Item Six: Markstrom Is Rumored to Want to Stay in Vancouver
Apparently, Canucks players are happy with this team and the situation in which they’re playing. In a recent tweet, TSN’s Rick Dhaliwal reported that Jacob Markstrom’s agent Pat Morris isn’t worried about negotiating a new contract for his client until after the season. Morris noted that Markstrom’s goal would be to stay with the Canucks for the rest of his career.
That also seems to be the case for stalwart defenseman Chris Tanev, who I also read would like to stay with the Canucks and doesn’t seem too worried about signing either.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
The Canucks have the All-Star break, then play the St. Louis Blues at home before leaving on a five-game road trip that starts in San Jose and then crosses the entire United States to New York City where they play the Islanders. The team returns home to play the Calgary Flames on Feb. 8.
After that road trip, the Canucks have a favorable home schedule. Should they emerge with a strong road trip, there’s a good chance they’ll make the playoffs. Obviously, they have to avoid another debacle similar to the one they experienced recently in Florida where the team was outscored 14-4 in two losses.