Now that the Vancouver Canucks have secured the Northwest Division again they have two meaningless games to tune up for a playoff run. It’s been an odd season for Vancouver so far, as maybe it has for all of us, and as they enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs their keys to success are pretty simple.
They need to convert on the power play and stay healthy.
There will be a great deal written about the Canucks and their playoff opponents in the next week. There will be breakdowns, advanced stats thrown back and forth and numerous predictions. Not to say that those articles and writers aren’t on top of their game, they are. It’s just that this Vancouver team just needs those two things, regardless of the opponent.
A good power play and no more injuries.
If they get both, they could be in for a fun spring.
For the majority of the season the Canucks power play unit has been flat out awful. Once the strong point of the team, bolstered by the endless fountain of Sedin Creativity, the team watched their not-so-special team plummet to the bottom of the NHL’s rankings. But things are changing.
Over the last few weeks the power play has shown some life. They have gone six straight games with at least one power play goal and started to crawl back up the pack towards respectability. They are now up to 23rd, which is still low when you’ve been perennially the best, and are climbing.
For starters they have Ryan Kesler back in the fold and he is playing well. Kesler missed most of the season to injury and since his return a few weeks ago has regained his spot in front of the net on the power play. He has two power play goals since returning and, more importantl,y has provided a strong net presence that has freed up the twins to do their thing.
The acquisition of Derek Roy has also helped the power play. Roy has been getting power play time for Vancouver and is a tremendous play maker with good vision. If head coach Alain Vigneault can use him on the second unit the Canucks should have even more success. A stronger second unit will relieve some pressure from the top unit.
The power play is key for a Vancouver squad that many feel lacks enough grit in their top six forwards. The playoffs are when grit is most needed and the Canucks will take their lumps no matter who they are matched up against. The best way to off set that is to make teams pay on the power play. Score enough and you cut their aggressiveness out at the knees and therefore have neutralized their physical play.
The list of injuries this season is pretty lengthy and loaded with key players. While the top line of the Sedins and Alex Burrows have stayed out of the training room, the rest of the forwards and defenseman have seemingly all missed time. Monday night’s game against Chicago was the healthiest their top nine forward lines have been and they turned in perhaps their best performance as they beat the Blackhawks 3-1.
They still have guys out on defense though. Kevin Bieksa has been skating with the team and figures to return while Chris Tanev is still reportedly in a walking boot. Keith Ballard is also out and the Canucks have called up Frank Corrado from Chicago. While the young Corrado performed remarkably well against Chicago, in tough minutes, the Canucks dont’ want to rely on a 19 year-old rookie in the post-season.
Wednesday the team announced that they were shutting down Cory Schneider for the last two games as he suffered from what Alain Vigneault jokingly referred to as a ‘body’ injury. Hopefully the fact that he was laughing when he told the media this means that the injury is not serious.
The team has indicated that they hope to see Bieksa and Tanev back in the lineup come the playoffs. If they do it might be the first time all season that the Canucks will ice a fully stocked roster. If the way they played Monday night is any indication of how that might go it could be a great run for Vancouver.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.