The Vancouver Canucks are now coming to the halfway point in their regular season. They’ve played 40 games of an 82-game regular-season schedule, and the team is contending for a playoff spot with a 21-15-4 record for 46 points.
As we look over the team’s progress throughout this season, there have been some surprises. And, those surprises firmly place the Canucks into playoff position. But, will the team make the playoffs? It wasn’t expected – or only expected by really optimistic Canucks fans – at the beginning of the season. However, I’m now firmly on the bandwagon. I believe the team will make it because it simply has the players to do so.
In this post, I want to outline nine reasons why I believe the Canucks will make the playoffs this season.
Reason #1: The Team Is Resilient
The first reason the team will make the playoffs is because it’s resilient. They might be down, but they’re seldom out. They push hard, and they don’t quit. Perhaps that’s the personality of their head coach Travis Green. Wherever it comes from, it’s a positive trait and makes them exceedingly fun to watch.
Reason #2: Bo Horvat Is a Good Team Captain
A second reason I believe this team will make the playoffs is that new captain Bo Horvat has taken well to his job. He’s accepted the role with conviction; and, at the same time, he’s not lost his on-ice scoring skills and strong play. He’s especially strong in the faceoff circle, regularly winning more draws than he’s losing – and often by wide margins. He’s also contributing in a number of specific ways to the success of this team. In short, I think Horvat was a great choice as a captain who’s accepted the role of leadership. He’s leading the team.
Reason #3: Tyler Myers Is Finally Scoring
It’s been a surprise to me that, until recently, defenseman Tyler Myers has not found the scoresheet often. He averaged over 33 points during his last two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, but he has only three goals and 13 points this season, and all three goals and six of the assists were scored in his last 11 games.
Because Myers has played beside Hughes and logged time on the second power-play unit all season so, he should have more points. He might miss the 30-point mark for the first time since 2016-17. However, perhaps the lid has come off the “top of the net” for Myers. I believe he’ll continue to score more as the season goes on.
Reason #4: The Great Play of J.T. Miller
Last season J.T. Miller had only 13 goals and 34 assists for the Tampa Bay Lightning and, when the Canucks traded a first- and third-round pick for him in June, there was grumbling. However, Miller’s proven he’s a huge part of this team’s success.
As Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre wisely noted in a recent article, “The 26-year-old (Miller) seems to be at the epicentre of the team. Bo Horvat is the captain and workhorse, Elias Pettersson the best player and Quinn Hughes the most exciting story. But Miller seems omnipresent, always involved, always felt.”
Head coach Travis Green agrees: “He’s played really well for us. He’s a vocal guy, he cares, he wants to win, he competes hard. He’s aggressive. As coaches, you like to have aggressive players because they usually want to win really bad. We talk about the will to win a lot. When you have those characteristics, it can be infectious and rub off on other players as well.”
Reason #5: The Team’s Top Line Is Elite
The top line of Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Miller has been strong. It’s no longer “Remember the Sedin twins?” The new top line has taken its play to another level this season. In addition, Canucks fans are no longer skeptical of Jim Benning’s off-season trade for Miller, because he fits perfectly with Pettersson and Boeser. The Canucks’ top line gives opponents the fewest good looks of any line on the Canucks by a significant margin and they also lead the team in slot passes and inner slot shots, while dominating shot attempts.
Reason #6.: The Effectiveness of the Power Play
The play of the Canucks’ top line also transfers to the team’s success on the power play. In the team’s 40 games this season, it has generated 148 power-play opportunities, scoring 39 goals on those chances. Both numbers rank first in the NHL. The team’s power-play success rate is 26.4 percent, which ranks fourth.
The Canucks don’t change the players on its power-play unit much. Why should they? They have had great success using Petterson, Boeser, Miller, and Horvat in power-play roles. In addition, rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes is amazing – even if his NHL experience is limited to about one-half of a full season. These Canucks players generate more chances by far than any other team, and I see no reason why the team shouldn’t continue both generating chances and then scoring on those chances.
Reason #7: Elias Pettersson Is Better than Expected
Elias Pettersson won the Calder Trophy last season. But he’s doing even better this season. Pettersson leads his team in scoring with 41 points in 40 games. The 21-year-old Swede also has five game-winning goals this season and has multiple points in three of his last five games.
Earlier this season, coach Green noted about Pettersson, “He wants to be great, he doesn’t want to be just good. He takes the game seriously. You can be honest with him. If he’s had a couple of games where he’s not quite on top of his game you can have a good dialogue with him. He’s a smart player … and he’s committed to being a good player in all areas of the game.”
Teammate Miller added, “He just has that next-play ability; he already knows what to do with the puck before it gets to him.”
Reason #8: Rookie Quinn Hughes Is a Special Player
Quinn Hughes plays like a skilled veteran – everywhere on the ice. Hockey insiders expected him to be good, but few people expected him to be as good as he’s been. Hughes is tied for the lead in the team for assists with 25 assists, with three goals for 28 points in 39 games. He’s what makes the Canucks power play the best in the NHL.
Reason #9: The Goaltending Has Been Strong
Both starter Jacob Markstrom and backup Thatcher Demko have been good in goal, giving the Canucks a chance to win on most nights.
It’s been a tough year personally for Markstrom, with his father’s passing and being on personal leave for a space in time. But that hasn’t impacted Markstrom’s play in the net. For example, Markstrom saved 49 of 51 shots in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. He’s now won four straight starts against Pacific Division rivals, with only nine goals allowed in those games. The 29-year-old record is now 13-11-3 with a 2.63 GAA and a .919 save percentage.
The 24-year-old Demko has an 8-4-1 record, with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. Other than a late November game, when he was overwhelmed by the Pittsburgh Penguins and gave up 7 goals on 39 shots, Demko’s been solid this season.
Can the Canucks’ Success Continue?
There’s no reason why the Canucks cannot continue to win games right into the playoffs. The team certainly has the manpower to do so. In fact, the team is being noticed around the NHL and even in fantasy hockey.
A recent poll of forwards in fantasy hockey named four Canucks forwards in the top 100 fantasy forwards. At #15 was Elias Pettersson, at #24 was Brock Boeser, at 41 was J.T. Miller, at #89 was Bo Horvat, and Tanner Pearson just missed the top 100.
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