What a difference two games makes for a top NHL franchise. A 7-4 win at home against the Capitals and a 5-1 road win against Calgary finally setting the Canucks on the right path for a successful November and season. This year it took the Vancouver team until the 3rd last day of the month to get over the typical October start, defeating the Capitals on October 29th and proving that the team of 2011/2012 has every chance of emulating the performances of last season.
The October blues looked to have ironically ended after a shutout win by the St Louis Blues. Alain Vigneault, disappointed after the lack of effort shown by his players in that game, tightened his leash with immediate results. The Canucks scored 7 goals for the first time this season in the game following and despite Washington scoring 4, the Canucks were the better team that day. In their first game of November, the Canucks dominated Calgary at the Saddledome, scoring 3 goals in the 1st period and 2 in the 2nd for a 5-1 victory, Roberto Luongo missing out on his first season shutout with just one minute left in the game, thanks to a redirect by Alex Tanguay.
Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, both picked up on Feb 28th 2011 in exchange for minor league players and 3rd round picks, have been important players for the Canucks this season. Chris Higgins is currently 15th in the league with 6 goals in 12 games and proved his versatility by moving seemlessly from the 2nd to 3rd line after the arrival of David Booth. Maxim Lapierre has turned himself from a journeyman into one the best 4th liners in the league, currently sitting on 5 points and a rating of +3 after 12 games played, all in an average of roughly 12 minutes ice time per game.
The Sedin twins predictably lead the team with 14 points each, currently on target for 95 points per brother at season’s end. Alex Burrows has also had a great start to the season, scoring 4 goals and 2 assists, an average of 1 point every 2 games for the top line winger. The Kesler line is showing glimpses of its potential with Cody Hodgson starting his first season as a regular Canuck with 3 goals and 2 assists, Ryan Kesler back on form after hip surgery in the off-season with 4 assists in 7 games and new offensive forward David Booth starting to gel with his new line-mates, only 4 games into a fresh start in Vancouver.
After a terrible start to the season for the Canucks defense, Kevin Bieksa and Keith Ballard are the only D men currently in negative plus/minus figures. Alex Edler is showing he has what it takes to replace Christian Ehrhoff on both the blueline and powerplay, racking up a total of 3 goals and 9 assists, making him the third highest scorer on the Canucks team behind the twins.
Enough has been said in the media regarding the play of Roberto Luongo and despite allowing 4 goals against Washington, his play has improved in the last 2 games. A little less pressure is being placed on the goaltender as more goals are being scored by the forward group and Luongo can be expected to bounce back to his 2010/11 form, where he registered a save percentage of .928, the second best of his career and a GAA of 2.11, the lowest since he became a professional player. Cory Schneider, who outplayed Luongo through the start of this season, can be relied upon if Luongo has a bad game and together they remain one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL today.
The next 3 games against Minnesota, St Louis and Chicago, all on the road, will prove a good test for the newly inspired Canucks. Vancouver defeated the Wild 3-2 on the 22nd of October in a hard-fought game by both clubs and the rematch will be expected to be another tight affair. After being defeated 3-0 at Rogers Arena against St Louis only a week ago, the Canucks will seek revenge against the Central Division team, while the Chicago game at the United Centre will be one of the toughest challenges the Canucks have faced this season so far.