Analyzing the major storylines and key players from the week in Canucks hockey. Hope you enjoy! If you don't, you can always find me on Twitter and tell me I'm an idiot.
Up until Friday, the Canucks had been feasting on a soft schedule through the first two weeks of February, which saw them string together a six game win streak off a steady diet of weak divisional opponents struggling to score goals. This artificially inflated the team's save percentage numbers to a ridiculous level that they never had a hope of sustaining, and over the last two games the regression has hit. In two losses, Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo weren't horrible, but they did fall victim to some bad bounces and some seeing eye shots that all goaltenders experience throughout a season. The Canucks played well and deserved points in both games (their domination in the 3rd against the Blues was something to behold), but these things happen. The team is getting healthy and with a more full and challenging schedule ahead, the timing couldn't be better.
There were a few major stories this week, but when the franchise record for points is broken by the greatest player in your club's history, it's a big deal. It was looking like a night to remember for the Canucks with Ryan Kesler returning and Henrik tying and then capturing the team scoring title with vintage Sedinery. Things went awry in the 3rd period, but a night to remember it still was. It's been remarkable to watch the journey of Henrik and his brother as they've matured into two of the game's very best players. It was fun to see the "Who is the greatest Canuck ever?" debate resurface over the past week. Of course, any answer that isn't Henrik is the wrong answer, but people are entitled to their opinions. The immense skill, scoring title, leadership, and charitable work speaks for itself.
THE RYTRAIN IS BACK IN SERVICE
It was a real treat to watch Ryan Kesler back on the ice again. Considering he had two major surgeries and no training camp, his transition has been relatively smooth. It will take him a handful of games to get to where he needs to be 5-on-5, but the Power Play has seen an instant boost; his goal off a Sedin set play against St. Louis was gorgeous. In addition to what he does on the ice, Kesler's presence balances the other lines perfectly.
It was difficult to watch Mike Gillis make the decision to shut down Manny Malhotra for the rest of the season. There's been conspiracy theory chatter about the timing of it with Kesler's return to the lineup. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see any reason to suspect there's more to it than what we've heard from Gillis. Under his watch, this has been an organization that values the health and well being of its players. What I find most troublesome is seeing a proud player like Manny forced into (potential) retirement by something beyond his control. Ideally every NHL player should be given the chance to retire on their own terms.
It sounds as if David Booth has been medically cleared to play, and he said himself he hopes to play at some point during the upcoming road trip. This is obviously good news, and creates the pleasant debate of "Which good player slides down to the 4th line?"
One prime candidate for that position would be Zack Kassian, who's hit a rough patch of late. Obviously Kassian's offensive clip to start the season wasn't going to be sustained, but he looked downright lost against the Blues. That was a game where the Canucks needed Kassian to be at his burly best, but he didn't seem interested.
Chris Higgins continues his upward trend. He's starting to produce regularly, and now he's got his old pal Kesler back to should some of the defensive work he was burdened with. I'm anticipating a reuniting of the American Express line once Booth is back.
Speaking of upward trend, there's also Mason Raymond, who's been fantastic all season. As far as reclamation projects go, Raymond is challenged only by Keith Ballard. It's fun to watch these two playing up to the level we always suspected they were capable of.
The absence of Manny Malhotra likely secures a roster spot for Dale Weise. I envision him and Max Lapierre as the 4th line anchors from here on out.
After only 7 games in the past 17 days, a tough stretch of games lies ahead this week. 4 games in 6 nights, all on the road, and all against quality opponents in the Blackhawks, Stars, Predators and Red Wings. If the goaltending continues to regress from its previously dizzying heights, it could be a rough week.