We are nearly halfway through the season! Can you believe it? Last year at this point it still was not clear if there would even be a season!
39 games in & Tortorella’s influence on the team is becoming clearer with each game played.
What exactly would the Canucks look like as team coached by John Tortorella after being coached by Alain Vigneault for 7 years?Would Torts be able to light a fire under this team that they had been missing for almost two years? Would he have the same ever interesting relationship with the Vancouver media that he had with the New York Media? How would the players react to Torts? Would there be communication between the coach and his players and would it translate onto the ice?
October was an incredible surprise as many did not expect the Canucks to have any real success in the early goings of learning an entirely new coaching system. Octobers prior to Torts time have not been kind to the Canucks, but this season they surprised nearly everyone posting an impressive 9-5-1 record. Perhaps the most impressive part of October was a season long 7-game road trip on which the team finished 5-1-1 picking up 11 of a possible 14 points. Remember it was trip that most did not have any expectations for the team do well.
November opened with a bang on Pavel BURE night as the Canucks opened the month with a BIG win against Toronto. The games that followed were back and forth contests and despite playing many of the games very well they could get win back to back games for the entire month. The most frustrating stretch for the team and fans alike was perhaps the 5-game losing streak that included 4 straight home game losses. They finished what felt like a very long November with a 4-5-4 record to bring their season record to 13-10-5. The Canucks would have a long climb ahead of themselves as a member the Pacific division that you cannot afford to lose points in and 4 other rivals playing well.
December where to begin? The team knew they had find a way to get better results and end up on the winning side more often than not. Cue two back to back two-goal games from Ryan Kesler to lead to the team to back to back wins for the first time since OCTOBER. The question remained could they make it three in a row when they returned home for a 5-game home stand? They opened with an overtime win against Phoenix and thanks to Luongo and Santorelli they also beat Patrick Roy’s Avalanche to stretch their success to a 4-game win streak. Could they continue their success? YES..they posted back to back shutouts [ONE each by Lack and Luongo] to stretch the streak to 6 games!
Boston came knocking in the next game and the atmosphere in the arena was electric like that of a playoff game…the fans were LOUD. It was a tight game until early in the second just after Boston tied the game at one and Torts called for T/O to get the team back on track..they never looked back winning to game 6-2 and a season best 7-game win streak. [Did I mention that was 5 straight wins at home?!]
The team struggled a little in their next few games BUT they found their way back to win column against the Blackhawks and the Jets. In 11 games in December they have posted a very impressive 9-1-1 record with 3 games left to play before the new year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Everyone knows that you need to have success not just 5-on-5 but also on the special teams [power play & penalty kill] to have success in this league.
POWER PLAY: It is no secret that the team struggled on the power play to start the year. It was highlighted by every media outlet and fans alike. Why couldn’t they have the success they used to? Through the first 20 games of the season, the team only managed to score just 6 power play goals; whereas in the last 19 games they have scored 13 power play goals, including a stretch where they scored a PPG in 7 straight games! It’s been fun to watch the team’s success in an area that they struggled with early on.
PENALTY KILL: Success on the power play is important BUT it is also vital that a team kill penalties they take rather than allow their opponents to score on the man advantage. Shot blocking is KEY to a successful penalty kill. This team has had some great shot blockers in the past BUT Torts made it clear that EVERYONE would need to pitch in the shot-blocking department. The entire team has pitched in with the shot blocks but the defense has stepped up the biggest this year with Tanev leading the way with 73, Bieksa with 70, *Edler with 67, Hamhuis with 61, Garrison with 54 and Stanton with 47. All those shot blocks and some great goal-tending have allowed the Canucks to have the league’s best penalty kill success rate of 89.4% while allowing a league low 13 power play goals against.
Like I said, special teams are vital to a team having success in this league and incredibly vital to success in the post-season.
Roberto Luongo with his position on the team CLEAR, he has been able to let his game on the ice do the talking for him. Despite the outcome some nights, he always gives the team a chance to win games and has been the most consistent Canuck, including having his BEST Canuck October! Luongo’s December in particular [minus that Dallas game] has been sparkling and has played himself into Olympic contention. The only question that remains with Bobby Lu is when he will return from his recent injury? If there ever was a good time to have an injury occur, it was right before a 6-day break like it happened. Here’s hoping that Luongo returns to the line-up sooner rather than later! No matter the length of his time out if any games are actually missed, the Canucks are in good hands with Eddie Lack to man the crease.
Ryan Kesler leads the team in goals with 15 and has been playing his best season in 2 years. May I just say that it is incredibly refreshing to see a 100% healthy Ryan Kesler back to his heart and soul play making ways?! He will be a force for the USA during the Sochi games.
Everyone was so focused on the big trades and big signings that Mike Gillis DIDN’T make that they didn’t consider how big or important a small signing could turn out to be.
Mike Santorelli has more than exceeded the expectations that people considered him to be worth. Santorelli has been a perfect fit with Torts and the players…and his versatility enables him to play anywhere in the line up. Recently he has found a permanent line spot with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins as they have formed a line with some fantastic chemistry that is fun to watch. Santorelli quietly gave this team some depth that a lot of people did not expect the team to have this season. Santorelli has been one of the most consistent players in the line up this season going back to training camp. With 26 points in 39 games and 550k cap hit he IS without a doubt one of the league’s best steals.
How about rookie defense-man Ryan Stanton who Mike Gillis picked up off the waivers from Chicago? Stanton until a recent injury has been one of a few very dependable defensive players including a respectable 47 shot blocks and 11 points. He has been a great find this season!
It’s true that Gillis didn’t make the big trade that people expected or sign any big names this summer that people wanted BUT he did find some great signings that have more than exceeded any expectations that people had. Perhaps we shouldn’t focus on the things that did not happen but on the ones that did and have had an impact on this team.
It has been quite a ride through 39 games as the team has adapted to the Tortorella system and surprised a lot of people in the process. Torts has been everything that he said he would be in his first press conference, and only had ONE note worthy bench rant during the Boston game. He has brought a determination back to this team and even in their losses they have a compete in their game that had been missing for the last two years. The team needed a change of voice and Torts has been up to the task in helping this team find their way again. As he said from the start, he hates losing, he’s a bad loser and to be a good loser, you are a loser.
43 games remain to be played before the new playoff format madness begins. A lot will occur between now and then BUT one thing remains true; the Pacific Division will be a battle all the way to the final buzzer of the regular season. 9 points separate the top 4 teams…just 4 points separate the Canucks from 2nd and 2 points separate them from 3rd. It’s going to be a wild finish, are you ready for all the will occur between now and then?
As always, until next time, nuck said.