Over the course of an 82-game season, there are bound to be ups and downs. Some teams like the Carolina Hurricanes or Colorado Avalanche have more success than failure and others like the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens experience the other side of the spectrum. The Vancouver Canucks fall somewhere in the middle, as they have seen both sides of the coin in 2021-22.
So, in the spirit of the rollercoaster that has been the 2021-22 season, we are going to highlight the ups and downs for the Canucks on a weekly basis. What headlines have Canuck Nation ready to beat the drum of the playoffs and which ones have them looking forward to yet another Draft Lottery. With that, here is the first edition of Canucks’ three up and three down.
Plus One: Demko Becoming the Backbone of the Canucks
Without Thatcher Demko‘s brilliant play in goal this season, the Canucks would be hanging out at the bottom of the standings with the Canadiens and Coyotes. That’s how good he has been. His numbers don’t scream Vezina Trophy (2.82 goals-against average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (SV%)), but like Jacob Markstrom before him, he has been their MVP night in and night out.
Unfortunately, it’s a sad commentary when your goaltender has to be one of your best players every game in order to win. Even when Spencer Martin was in goal, he had to stand on his head for the Canucks to have a chance. Nevertheless, Demko has become a franchise goaltender for this team and will be for years to come. If all goes right, he could be the next Roberto Luongo and start touching some franchise records before too long. Once the team gets better in front of him, look out, because he is ready to take the reins and bring a Stanley Cup to Vancouver.
Minus One: Slow Starts Still a Problem Under Boudreau
One thing that has still haunted the Canucks from the Travis Green era is the fact they can’t seem to start games on time. Since Green took over in 2017, the team has been outscored 334-280 in first periods and has only opened the scoring 149 times, which is tied for the second-fewest (Los Angeles Kings) in that time. The fewest belongs to the Seattle Kraken, but they have been only in existence for 61 games. Basically, this problem is not a recent one, as the Canucks have been one of the worst teams out of the gate for close to five seasons now.
If the Canucks would have brought their “A” game to the rink at the 20-minute mark of the first period against both the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning, they would probably be 3-0 on the current homestand rather than 1-1-1. During the game on Sunday, they outshot the latter 25-16 after the first period and generated a plethora of high danger chances in the second period only to be stymied by Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. If they would have come out of the gate firing like they did in the middle frame right from the first puck drop, the result might have been different than what ended up being a 2-1 defeat.
For the Canucks to have any chance of catching the teams occupying the wild card spots and Pacific Division playoff berths, they have to be prepared to play the minute the first period starts. While their ability to fight and never give up is admirable, they shouldn’t have to do that game in and game out. They have to find a way to buckle down and play a full 60 minutes or they will be heading back to the golf course sooner rather than later.
Plus Two: J.T. Miller Climbing the Record Books
What can I say about J.T. Miller that hasn’t already been said. He’s been everything for the Canucks this season from leading the team in scoring to leading the team in the dressing room. Now on a career-high 12-game point streak and four games away from passing Petr Nedved and Todd Bertuzzi (15 games) for the longest in franchise history, phenomenal doesn’t even begin to describe the run he is on right now. To make the feat even more impressive, the 24 points (8 G, 16 A) he has during the streak is tied for fourth behind only Darcy Rota (14 games, 30 points), Stan Smyl (13 games, 27 points) and Thomas Gradin (12 games, 26 points).
The last time a Canuck had a point streak as long as Miller’s was back in 2013-14 when Henrik Sedin went on a 12-game heater generating three goals and 14 points. He has already doubled that in just as many games. It will be interesting to see if he can catch Nedved and Bertuzzi in the next four games which include the New Jersey Devils (nine career points), Detroit Red Wings (10 career points), Calgary Flames (21 career points) and Buffalo Sabres (18 career points). With how hot his stick is right now, it’s definitely a possibility.
Miller is also only three points away from shattering his career-high of 73 points that he set back in 2019-20 during his first season with the Canucks. If his current pace stays true, he could be flirting with 100 points by the end of the season. The last time a Canuck did that was over a decade ago when Daniel Sedin hit 104 points only a season after his brother won the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy with a whopping 112. I think it’s safe to say Miller isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, despite the trade rumors saying otherwise.
Minus Two: Pettersson Out Day-to-Day With an Upper-Body Injury
Just when Elias Pettersson was turning a significant corner in his season, the injury bug had to rear its ugly head once again. While the Canucks are not saying what the exact injury is, he is day-to-day after seemingly hurting his wrist against the Capitals on Friday. He was seen rubbing it on the bench after a shift where he squeezed past a defender along the boards. Sportsnet broadcasters John Shorthouse and John Garrett speculated as such after the play happened. Pettersson sat out the next day for what Boudreau called “maintenance” and then was a late scratch before the game against the Lightning on Sunday.
After starting the 2021-22 campaign a little slow, Pettersson was starting to produce at the clip he’s been used to over the past few seasons. With 15 points in his last ten games and four in his last five, he was beginning to look like the “Dekey Pete” of old. His one-timer and lethal wrist shot were back, he was involved and noticeable every shift and his confidence seemed sky-high. The hope will be that this latest injury isn’t serious and that he can return as soon as possible at the same level he was at beforehand. After all, the Canucks’ playoff hopes may depend on it.
Plus Three: Quinn Hughes Approaching 50 Points Again, But This Time in the Black
Another massive positive of the Canucks’ season so far is the progress of one Quinn Hughes. The 22-year-old Floridian is closing in on his second 50-point season in three years and could shatter Doug Lidster’s record of 63 that he set all the way back in 1986-87. As of this writing, he only needs 16 points in his team’s next 22 games to do it. Definitely doable, especially at the rate he’s piling up the points right now.
What’s more impressive is that Hughes is doing it not just as an offensive defenceman, but as a two-way threat as well. During his last 50-point effort, he finished the season at a minus-10. Over the last two seasons alone, he has been an abysmal minus-34. This season, however, he currently stands at a very reasonable plus-8 playing in all situations and against all types of opponents. He leads all Canucks defencemen in ice time and has looked more than capable defensively using his hockey IQ, body position and quick stick to disrupt plays. If he was playing in the Eastern Conference under the media spotlight of New York and Toronto, he would be in the Norris Trophy conversation. That’s how good he has been this season.
Minus Three: Low Ice Time & Dwindling Role For Nils Hoglander
For our final minus of the week, we are going to spotlight the low ice time given to Nils Hoglander. Playing in his sophomore season, he has had to endure the dog house of the new bench boss multiple times in the past few weeks. Criticized by Boudreau for his lack of a well-rounded game, Hoglander has slumped to nine goals and 17 points in 59 games this season. To put that in perspective, he had 13 goals and 27 points in 56 games in 2020-21. Someone should tell him to go back to his old no. 36 rather than his current no. 21. Clearly, the spirit of Jannik Hansen fits him better than the one of Loui Eriksson.
“He’s got some scoring potential, but he needs to learn how to play the game,” Boudreau said. “He’s still a young kid, quite frankly, and I don’t know, someday he might score 40 goals, but if you’re going to hover around the 20-goal mark, you better learn to play both ends of the ice.”
Hoglander’s ice time dwindled to a career-low 7:30 on Sunday against the Lightning where he barely saw the ice in the third period with his team down 2-1. In fact, he only saw a grand total of five shifts. With his work ethic and strong forechecking abilities, you would think Boudreau would want him out there generating energy and scoring chances with his team trailing. Except that hasn’t been the case in recent games, or for the entire time he has been behind the bench for that matter.
From an average of 15:27 in 2020-21 to 13:07 in 2021-22, Hoglander is still trying to gain the trust of his new coach. Once called a “Swiss Army Knife” by Green, he has become a replaceable part for Boudreau. Unfortunately for Hoglander, that might mean a ticket out of town. With no current ties to the front office or coaching staff, he could be seen as an asset to trade away for more pressing needs (from ‘What we’re hearing about the Canucks’ priorities 17 days out from the NHL trade deadline’, The Athletic, 3/4/22). We will see what happens in the future, but right now, he is closer to being trade bait than a core piece of the team.
That does it for the first edition of Canucks’ three up and three down. The 2021-22 season has been a roller coaster ride thus far, and as such, we’ll continue to bring you all the ups and downs that surround the Canucks moving forward.
Will we be talking about Miller breaking the record for longest point streak in franchise history next week? How about Hughes hitting 50 points for the second time in his career? Stay tuned as we at The Hockey Writers continue to bring you all the latest from Rogers Arena and beyond.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.