Seven games in a row; that’s how many the Vancouver Canucks have won as they begin a five-game road trip against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning.
That winning streak has placed the team – at least momentarily – into third place in the Pacific Division with a 23-15-4 record and 50 points. In fact, the Canucks have three games in hand over the leading Vegas Golden Knights and two in hand over the Arizona Coyotes. Should they win all three, they’d occupy first place in the division. Of course, given the difficulty of the road trip, winning three more in a row might be a challenge.
In this post, before the team goes out on its eight-day road trip, I hope to keep Canucks fans up-to-date on team news and offer suggestions for needed improvements.
Item One: Markstrom Named to All-Star Team
Jacob Markstrom was named to the roster for the annual All-Star Game on Jan. 25 as Marc-Andre Fleury’s replacement. This will be the 29-year-old Swede’s first All-Star game. Markstrom has 14 wins and a .917 save percentage in 28 games this season.
Markstrom’s last two regular-season games were about as different as night and day. He gave up five goals on 33 shots against the Chicago Blackhawks in the team’s 7-5 victory. In his next game against the New York Rangers, he stopped 36 of 37 shots in a 2-1 win. He basically stole that victory. As a result of these two wins, Markstrom now has a six-game winning streak.
Although he gave up five goals against the Blackhawks, that game was an aberration. During his six-game win streak, he only allowed 15 goals. His season’s record now sits at 15-11-3 with a 2.66 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 29 games. Few goalies are currently playing as well as Markstrom; however, his play will be tested on the road trip.
Item Two: Even Loui Eriksson’s Scoring
Even the maligned Loui Eriksson had an assist against the Rangers. Eriksson now has four points on the season – all coming in his last nine games.
Item Three: Hughes Has a 3-Game Point Streak
Against the Blackhawks, Quinn Hughes scored yet another power-play point (a goal). He also had an assist in the Rangers game. He now has points in three straight games and 30 points in 41 games for the season. Of those 30 points, more than half (17) have come on the Canucks’ league-leading power play. He set a franchise record as the fastest Canucks rookie defenseman to score 30 points.
Item Four: Horvat Has Become a Faceoff Sensation
In the wild 7-5 win over the Blackhawks, Bo Horvat scored two goals and added an assist. That three-point game pushed his totals to 33 points in 41 games. Then, in the next game against the Rangers, not only did Horvat register assists on both goals in the win over the Rangers, but he also won 20 of 29 faceoffs.
That was Horvat’s third straight multi-point game, and he’s now scored 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 42 games. Perhaps even better, he’s winning faceoffs at a career-high rate of 56.6 percent. Horvat 929 draws ranks second in draws taken to the St. Louis Blues Ryan O’Reilly’s 948).
Item Five: Pettersson Gets Out of His Sickbed to Score
Earlier last week Elias Pettersson was ill. But he rose from his sickbed to hit the score sheet against the Blackhawks, scoring a goal and two assists. With those points, the young Swedish star has five goals and four assists in his last six games and 44 points in 41 games. Of those points, 18 are power-play points.
Item Six: Miller Has a Huge Night Against the Blackhawks
Against Chicago, J.T. Miller had a huge night, scoring four points on a goal and three assists. It was Miller’s second four-point game this season. He now has 40 points in 41 games and is nearing his first 60-point season.
In fact, if he keeps scoring as he has, he could shatter his previous best and come closer to an 80-point season. That’s not bad for someone many thought general manager Jim Benning gave up too much for in the offseason trade. Benning was ripped for the Miller deal and more.
Item Seven: Canucks Injury Update
Micheal Ferland and Brandon Sutter, who have both been out with upper-body injuries, skated on their own Saturday. It’s possible both could be on the Canucks roster when the team leaves on its five-game road trip.
Item Eight: Areas In Need of Improvement
Although the team is on a seven-game winning streak, I believe they could be playing stronger defensively. Specifically, although Markstrom’s playing well in goal, he’s facing too many shots. That’s unnecessary pressure to put on any goalie if a stronger defense in front of him could eliminate opponents’ chances.
In addition, sometimes the Canucks can be lackadaisical clearing the puck from their own zone. I believe the team must improve its play between the top of the faceoff circles and the blue line. Often players seem indecisive, which results in chaos, overpassing, overthinking, and trying to dipsy-doodle out of trouble. The result is turnovers.
Opponents’ scouts will soon figure out ways to contain the team within this narrow zone because turnovers happen way too regularly. Sadly, such poor defense is reminiscent of how the Canucks played a few seasons ago when Ryan Miller regularly faced 35-40 shots in each game. Markstrom faced 51 shots against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 28. That’s far too many.
It’s something the team has to improve if it hopes to move into the playoffs.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
The Canucks start their road trip against the Lightning on Jan. 7. They play the Florida Panthers two nights later. Then they head north to play an afternoon game against the Sabres in Buffalo on Jan. 11 and follow up the next afternoon by playing the Minnesota Wild. They finish the trip against the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 14.
Considering the Canucks started on the west coast, that’s logging lots of air miles. How they do on this road trip isn’t season-defining; it’s still too early. However, should their success continue, they will solidify their position as a playoff team. The Calgary Flames are coming on, so there’s lots of hard work yet to do.