Thursday, April 02, 2009

Six Games to Go

With only 6 games remaining in the regular season the Canucks find themselves leading the North West Division after an amazing turn around. Surprisingly to some, the sky did not fall, the Canucks managed to get things back on track and now the bandwagon is once again full.

No matter what happens over the final week and a half, there will be playoff hockey in Vancouver. Not only will there be playoff hockey, but the Canucks have a legitimate chance to go on an extended Stanley Cup run. To do that though, several things will have to go their way. Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the final 6 games...

The Second Period (long) Change
One thing the Canucks have struggled with is the long second period line change. The Canucks have allowed 12 more goals in the second period than either the first or third. As the result of poor changes they are also tied for the league lead with 13 bench minors. The Canucks need to do a better job of moving the puck up ice so that they have enough time to make the line change during the 2nd.
The Canucks have taken 405 minor penalties, 4th most in the league. Obviously that has strained the penalty kill. The Canucks cannot afford to take penalties if they are to succeed in the playoffs. In particular they need to eliminate offensive zone penalties (I'm looking at you Daniel and Henrik!) Penalties will happen, they are a part of the game, but you need to eliminate the unnecessary ones.
One of the more overlooked aspects of the Canucks is how successful they have been in the faceoff circle. The Canucks currently sit 7th overall at 51%. That is a huge improvement on last years 48.7% (24th). The improvement in the faceoff circle should be a significant bonus in the playoffs.
The Bottom Six
For most of the season the Canucks have received very little out of the bottom two lines. The fourth line has rarely been effective and the third has not contributed enough. However, over the past month both have been much better. While it is not an ideal third line, the Wellwood unit has at least played strong defensively and has not been a liability. More offense would be welcome, but they need to continue their strong defensive play. Ryan Johnson's improved health has resulted in a more effective 4th line and with a full complimented of healthy forwards, the 4th line should be able to contribute those "momentum changing" shifts that are so important in the playoffs.
The Power Play
The power play may be the single most influential aspect of a team's play. As the PP goes, so does the team. In the playoffs the power play is often the difference between winning and losing. If you don't capitalize on your chances you're going to have a tough time winning especially if your opponent capitalizes on theirs. The Canucks' PP has been middle of the road for most of the season, however since the addition of Sundin they have always been a threat no matter which unit is on the ice. It would be nice to have another defenseman to play the point (I've never been a fan of using a forward unless you are trailing in the game), but the Canucks PP looks poised to be an effective asset during the post season.
Team Toughness
Team toughness has often been a problem for recent editions of the Canucks, however I believe any question marks surrounding toughness were answered in the Canucks 4-0 win over the Blackhawks.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the Canucks success has been their remarkable health. Since Luongo and Salo have returned to the lineup the Canucks have avoided injuries to key players. Hopefully this trend continues. While there is some decent depth on defense and up front, a few injuries could seriously jeopardize any hope of a Cup run.
Individual Players
  • While most of the team has been playing well, Alex Edler has been struggling. This season Edler has been great at times and awful at others. The Canucks really need Edler to step up and play some strong consistent hockey.
  • Mayson Raymond really stepped up his game in March. His play improved about a week before the deadline and has been much better than most of the season. Raymond will likely be in and out of the lineup for the rest of the year, but he should be able to contribute something.
  • Rick Rypien's return to the lineup is a welcome sight. He may not play every night, but his speed and physical play will be a nice asset to the 4th line. Hopefully he can stay healthy.
  • Mats Sundin. What to say? You can't argue that the team hasn't been better with him, but at the same time his consistency has been a disappointment. He needs to have an impact every night, not just once or twice a week. Still, he has managed 25 points in 35 games which puts him on pace for 29 points, or only 1 off my prediction of 30 points in 41 games
  • Jannik Hansen has returned from injury, but has not looked particularly strong. Hopefully he can find his game over the next week, as he could potentially be a big contributor in a post-season run. I'm sure he wants to make up for his mistake on the goal that eliminated the Canucks vs the Ducks the last time the Canucks were in the playoffs.

I haven't posted much in the past couple months, but I hope to ramp things up for what should be a great spring for Vancouver Canuck fans...

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