Will November Decide Season for Canucks?

In theory, November shouldn’t really determine a team’s season and yet, you can’t help feeling the events of this month will have a major impact on how the campaign plays out for the Vancouver Canucks. There’s no denying the Canucks have performed better than predicted. Heading into Monday night’s action, while out of a playoff spot, they were tied in points with the two wild-card teams in the Western Conference.

Vancouver Canucks
(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Up in October, Down in November

However, the optimism of October has been replaced by a disappointing November up to this point. Suddenly, the media and fans are wondering if this month’s version of the Canucks is the one everyone was expecting. In October, the team compiled a 6-3-2 record, scoring 31 goals and allowing 27, for respective averages of 2.81 and 2.45 per contest. In November, they have a record of 2-4-0, scored 12 and conceded 19, for averages of 2.00 and 3.17.

More than pure statistics, the Canucks just don’t seem to be working as hard as they did last month. Is this a temporary blip, or a sign of things to come?

It doesn’t help that they are three games into a crucial stretch of 10 road contests in 12 games. With all the travelling they are doing, you have to wonder how much this has impacted their recent turn in fortune? As such, a disastrous month won’t explicitly end any playoff aspirations, but it will have a profound impact.

The Loss of Chris Tanev

It doesn’t help that Vancouver will probably have to navigate the rest of this month without Chris Tanev after he suffered a broken thumb in the 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames. Tanev is arguably the Canucks’ best blueliner. The 27-year-old’s absence was felt right away, against the Anaheim Ducks.

Vancouver Canucks Chris Tanev
Chris Tanev (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As noted by Daniel Wagner of the Vancouver Courier, the Canucks were consistently stifled in their zone, unable to break free. The team was destroyed on the penalty kill, allowing three goals on six Ducks power plays. Tanev is far and away the Canucks’ best penalty killer and he was missed, as they went on to lose 4-1.

In fairness, the penalty kill was considerably more effective on Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks. However, even though the Canucks killed all four power plays they faced, they still lost 5-0 albeit after allowing three goals in the final two minutes of the contest.

When considering how the month will play out, it’s worth looking at who the Canucks still have to face. Be warned though, it’s not pretty. Though it’s still early in the season, the Canucks will face the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils in this upcoming stretch. In summary, of the nine games remaining in November, seven are against teams in the playoff place, including a trio of contests against the top three in the Western Conference.

Related: Time for the Canucks to Deal Edler

A Silver Lining?

Before any Canucks fans decide to reach for whiskey, there may be some help on the way in Anders Nilsson. The goaltender took some time off for the birth of his child but is now ready to return to action. This will be a big boost. While Jacob Markstrom has had his moments this season, Nilsson has been superior in most areas, including the basics of producing a better save percentage and lower goals-against average.

Whether Nilsson can do enough to stem the tide and help get the team back to their October form remains to be seen. As we’ve noted previously, he doesn’t have a history of being a consistent and regular starter in the NHL.

Ultimately, it’s up to everyone on the team to rediscover the work ethic which was so evident last month. If they don’t, November will become a month which likely haunts them the rest of the way.