The NHL All-Star game is here and everyone can take a deep sigh of relief. For the next few days there are no real games to worry about, no Shanaban videos, no White House goalie snubs and no real drama. For the Vancouver Canucks this break comes at a good time.
With a frantic first half schedule they could use a few days off. While the All-Star break is not the statistical half way point of the season it is the unofficial end of the first half. What better time to look back at the highs and lows of the first 49 Vancouver Canucks games. The plusses and minuses if you will (see what I did there? Clever I know).
Here are what was good and bad about the first half:
Plus: The Sedins are still good. Despite a no-show in the finals the twins have once again found themselves in the rarefied air of the NHL Scoring race. The fact that the Canucks best players are still at the top of their games should not be a surprise to anyone.
Plus: The development of Cody Hodgson. The former number one pick had struggled through some freak injuries and inflated expectations to find himself with some regular ice time and it is paying off. He has been one of the most consistent offensive players for Vancouver and is quietly inching into the Calder conversation.
Minus: The Marco Sturm experiment was a failure. The oft injured veteran was brought in to hopefully provide some scoring depth. Sadly he was slow and looked lost and eventually was shipped out-of-town.
Plus: The David Booth trade brought in that secondary scoring the Canucks were desperate for. Booth, who does come with a high price tag, struggled at first to find his place with Vancouver but has rebounded and has contributed 16 points in his 23 games. Plus, the ladies like him.
Plus: The over-hyped and still talked about game with the Bruins showed that the Canucks could handle the bully tactics favored by the Bruins and still come out with the two points.
Minus: The vitriol, rhetoric and Sami Salo injury that came out of that game. The media lost their collective minds in the aftermath of the game to the point where people had to dust off their favorite school yard burns to keep up.
Minus: Ryan Kesler returned fairly quickly after having off-season hip surgery and has seen his offensive production dip. Whether this is due to the injury or to the revolving door at his wing is unclear. With Booth and Chris Higgins settling into the second line we’ll have an answer of sorts soon enough.
Minus: The silly “feud” between Kesler and Alain Vigneault. The media, perhaps out of regular season boredom, went a bit nuts over the comments the coach made about Kesler using his teammates more. In reality, it was much to do about nothing although Kesler does need to pass some more.
Plus: Goaltending. The Canucks are one of a handful of teams that are blessed with superb goaltending depth on their roster. Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo have picked up where they left last season as one of the best tandems in the league. Are any Canucks fans too worried about one of them getting injured? The blessings of the Canucks go further when you consider that Eddie Lack looks like he is knocking on the door to being NHL ready. After suffering through some less than stellar net-minders (we’re looking in your direction Cloutier) Canucks fans should step back and recognize how rare this situation is.
Minus: The toughness debate rages on in Vancouver. After seeing the Boston Bruins have their way physically (before and after the whistle) in the finals the narrative so far has been about team toughness. There is a school of thought that the team needs to get an enforcer. There are two strong schools of thought so that when rumors (fake ones) surfaced that they were close to landing George Parros, the Canucks fan base was both excited and disgusted. The debate will linger most likely into the playoffs.
Plus: Jannik Hansen has turned up his offensive game this season. Using speed and improving hands Hansen has scored 25 points, which is four points off his career best. He has moved up and down the lineup but has snapped in nicely on Hodgson’s wing.
Minus: Rogers Arena Crowds. The atmosphere in Rogers Arena should be electric. They get to watch an exciting team that plays an entertaining brand of hockey, has two of the best offensive players in the league and usually wins. Yet the crowd is often silent. Yes they represent well on the road, but you have to wonder if the fans who make the road game are ones who can’t get into Rogers? The random “Go Canucks Go” chants hardly make for an electric atmosphere. This is one case where Vancouver could stand to be a little more Winnipeg-like.
Plus: This goal by Ryan Kesler. Despite how it makes his coach feel, there is not much fun than watching Kesler take one of his beast mode “me against the world” rushes. Last Saturday against San Jose he gave us one of the best. Blasting into the zone before ripping a nasty shot to score a go ahead goal was classic Kesler.
Minus: The panic at the beginning of the season. This one is aimed at Canucks fans. Not all of you for sure, but there was considerable hand-wringing over the play the first month of the season. It did not matter that the team has come out of the gates slow every year for the past five, there was panic. It got to the point where Roberto Luongo heard the boo birds in a game against the Rangers. A game where his team managed zero goals in support.
What will the second half bring us?