December 2 Remember

Happy New Year hockey fans!

While we will all be keeping our eyes on the 2014 Winter Classic and the announcement of the USA Olympic hockey roster[Congratulations Ryan Kesler!], I will be taking a closer look at the December that was for the Canucks. Spoiler alert: it was fantastic!

November was NOT a good month for the Canucks as they could not solve the riddle of how to win back to back games no matter how good they played. November was the month they survived and December was the month they thrived.

In December the team posted an impressive 10-1-2 record picking up 22/26 points.December wasn’t exactly easy either as the team lost Burrows, Sestito, Edler, Stanton, Luongo and Alberts to various injuries throughout the month. Sestito is the only one to return to the line up so far.

Coming into December the Canucks had not posted back to back wins since October…which sounds pretty unbelievable YET it is very true. They knew they had to be better from top to bottom and it would require everyone to step up. Points are vital to divisional standings and the wildcard spots…and while they have not yet caught the leading Anaheim Ducks, they have closed the gap between themselves and LA and San Jose as they have stacked up some points.

Step up indeed they did. They opened December with 7 straight, yes you read that right…7 straight WINS including 5 straight at home and points in 8 straight over all.

During that 7-game win streak there were some stand out performances from a few players in particular. The line of Higgins-Kesler-Santorelli showcased some fantastic chemistry while the goal-tenders each posted shutouts.

The month opened with Ryan Kesler leading the charge with back to back 2-goal game performances against Carolina and Nashville.

The Canucks saw their 2-goal lead disappear very quickly when Carolina scored twice in 10 seconds early in the middle frame to tie the game. The team could have easily buckled in that moment BUT instead Ryan Kesler was quick to take back the lead for the Canucks.

Kesler put on a show in the third period against Nashville and made absolutely certain the team took two points home.

Phoenix came calling and the Canucks were trying to catch them in the division standings as the gap between the two was closing.

Now this game would end up going to overtime before the Canucks eventually won BUT this goal from Henrik is just ridiculous:

After Phoenix came the young Colorado Avalanche who have been aptly coached by the ever colorful Patrick Roy. The Canucks were in complete control of this game from the puck drop however as the Higgins-Kesler-Santorelli line took care of the offense while Luongo stood on his head to lead the team to a 3-1 victory.

The stand out in this game aside from Luongo’s stellar goal-tending was Mike Santorelli who has quickly become a fan favourite as he has been easily one of the most consistent players all season long.

Did I mention the BIG wins against Boston and Chicago? The atmosphere in Rogers Arena during the Boston game was electric, as loud as a playoff game. It was the first time the Bruins have played in Vancouver since June 15, 2011 and the while the stakes were not high, both teams wanted this victory. Both the Canucks and the fans were ready for this game…and the fans made sure to be heard all game long. Did I mention the unconventional time out called by Torts early in the 2nd period that turned the tide back to the Canucks and they never looked back.

Canucks went into the madhouse following a disappointing game in Dallas [their ONLY regulation loss in the month] and did not have the start they hoped for as the Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead. Cue the comeback kids…Daniel Sedin tied the game midway through the third period forcing this game to go to extra time. Over time did not solve the game although Santorelli came awfully close to tying the game with the clock winding down. Eddie Lack took part in his first NHL shootout…an 8 round shoot out in the mad house…and came out on the winning side stopping the likes of Kane, Toews & Hossa!

Have I mentioned the injury bug that bit the team in the very first game by taking away Burrows with a broken jaw. Alex Edler and Ryan Stanton were soon to follow…and left our defense seriously drained. Luongo’s injury came in late in the month against Winnipeg and was determined to be day-to-day and left Eddie Lack with the reigns to manage until such time that Luongo returns to the lineup. Lack has been more than capable in helping this team close out the month 2-0-1 picking up 5/6 points including posting his 2nd NHL shutout in his career and in the month. The latest injury came as the month drew to a close to Andrew Alberts, who suffered a concussion after taking a hit from Brian McGrattan early in the game against Calgary.

The injury bug hits every team (just look at Pittsburgh!) and if they want to have success they have to find ways to win despite missing key pieces. Injuries while frustrating, allow an opportunity for other players to step into a bigger role and bigger minutes as they help the team move forward. December is a month in which not every win was pretty but the team has had to redefine the ways in which they have won while different role players have stepped up as hero.

Torts has made it clear since day one that shot blocking and special teams would be vital to his team’s success. Special teams will be key as they always are moving forward and the Canucks will look to keep improving their power play and penalty kill teams. Shot blocking is expected of each and every player in every situation [5-on-5, 5-on-4 or 5-on-3]. If I have mentioned their power play once, I’ve mentioned it 100 times…it is no secret they struggled with the man advantage early but it has most definitely improved as of late [6 power play goals in their first 20 games, 13 PPG in their last 21 games]. Special teams may not win you every game BUT success long term is much easier attained when your special teams are successful. The Canucks have relied heavily on their strong penalty kill and slowly their power play is catching up as December closed and the season progresses. **Did I mention they have the league’s number ONE ranked penalty kill?

It truly was a December to remember,

As 2014 begins, January will see the return of Luongo, Burrows and potentially Edler. There is no sense in rushing Luongo with Lack’s steady play, but the belief is that Luongo will be back in the lineup by the weekend road trip in California. Alex Burrows will be a spark plug as he always is when he is in the lineup when he makes his comeback. Burrows does more than just score goals, he does all the little things and is a huge asset to our penalty kill unit. Alex Edler will be a welcome addition back to the backend as the defense has taken a few hits thanks to various injuries. Lucky for the Canucks, they have been able to rely on Hamhuis and some unexpected depth but they will gladly welcome back some regulars as the season moves forward. A healthy line up will be key to having success down the stretch and into the playoffs.

41 games in, we are officially at the halfway point in the season, can you believe it? 41 more games remain during which we will see an Olympic break as the Sochi games take the world captive. 41 more games before the playoff madness of a new playoff format will unfold and the wildcards are determined. 41 games before the real work begins for all the playoff contenders.

The Canucks closed 2013 with an impeccable 10-1-2 December and an overall 23-11-7 record in the first half of the season. Here’s to a great 2014 for the Canucks and all the teams in the NHL. It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish and we are lucky to be able to watch as it unfolds.

December to remember indeed as the Vancouver Canucks posted a 10-1-2 record. (Eerily similar to their December 2010 when they posted a 11-1-2 record)

Here’s December 2013 at glance! December to remember indeed as the Vancouver Canucks posted a 10-1-2 record. (Eerily similar to their December 2010 when they posted a 11-1-2 record)

October was the month that the Canucks surprised a lot people as they adjusted to Torts’ style. November was the month that the Canucks survived. December was the month that the Canucks thrived and will be looking to build upon that success as they open 2014 with a New Year’s Day game against Tampa Bay [yes I know, not quite as big as the Winter Classic BUT the 2 points that come with it are vital with the ever tight in the Pacific Division].

***The Team Canada Men’s hockey team Olympic roster will be announced January 7, 2014. [& I expect one or two Canucks to be named to that roster..see what I did there?].

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

Advertisements

A tale of 39 games…

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?

Torts is never afraid to show his passion for the game with the players or the refs.

Torts is never afraid to show his passion for the game with the players or the refs.

OVERVIEW:

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.

FINER DETAILS:

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.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE:

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.

DIVISIONAL CONUNDRUM:

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.

Sarah E.L.