Canucks Brunch- The 'What If' Game

If we see lots of this tonight, I will be a happy guy... - Rich Lam

The Canucks have 4 games left in this NHL season. 3 of them are against some pretty darn good teams. They've still not clinched a playoff spot. They're still suffering from injuries to some key players. And they came off a road trip where they showed some very familiar behaviours. As we head into the postseason, the Canucks chances of even getting out of the first round have a whole lot of 'IF's' attached to them.

When my son was little, he was like a lot of kids, in that he could spend hours talking about the things that rolled through his imagination, taking normal day by day scenarios and changing them. "What if the city was completely covered in water, and we had to take a boat to school?" etc. There seemed to be no end to what he could think up, and I admired his ability to do so. When I look at the Canucks chances in the playoffs, I can't help but think it's the 'What If?' game all over again, because so many things need to happen for the Canucks to have a shot at getting back to where they were in 2011.

IF they go into the playoffs with a healthy team. They've had a pretty significant battle with injuries this season, losing a number of key players along the way. Ryan Kesler missed the start of the season recovering from multiple off-season surgeries, then broke his foot blocking a shot on his first game back, managing to stay in the lineup a few games before going back on the injured list. He's back now, and looks like the Kesler of old. This is a huge thing for the Canucks, and something to give them hope. Kevin Bieksa is still out, and though the Canucks have said he's day to day, it's beginning to look like we won't see Juice back in the lineup until the playoffs start. And they're gonna need him back. Bieksa brings the element of nasty that was missing in that game against St Louis the other night. Though I think the way St Louis played led to a lot of media and fans claiming they slapped the Canucks around ala the Bruins in 2011, to me that seemed a bit of an exaggeration. Still, Bieksa is a guy who can play that way and counter that kind of garbage, and he's a pretty big guy in big games, as we've seen from the past.

Chris Higgins has started skating again, leading many to speculate he'll be ready to go for Game 1. Higgins has been solid this season, providing offence and being a defensively responsible forward as well. His instant chemistry with Derek Roy was encouraging, and if it gives the Canucks a 3rd line with speed and skill, that could have an effect on any potential opponents and the way they match up against Vancouver. The other Chris however is the one that has me worried. Chris Tanev has been a revelation this year, looking very much not the rookie, his demeanor more like that of a veteran, staying calm and cool in pressure situations. We've not been told what his injury is, but he has been spotted around town in a walking cast. Is it a fracture? High ankle sprain? We're not gonna find out, that much we do know. And with Tanev not even skating yet, it's a pretty safe bet they'll head into the postseason without him.

IF the Canucks fix their special teams. This one appears to be happening of late, with the power play coming to life and moving up a few spots in the rankings, and their penalty killing (apart from that one in Dallas) becoming pretty darn effective of late. Both will still need to be better than they have been, regardless of opponent. One other area of concern remains the Canucks performance in the faceoff circle. When you look at the Canucks' potential opponents, and the significantly better numbers they have in the faceoff circle, is an issue that could definitely come back to bite the Canucks on their collective asses. They need to find a way to channel their inner Manny Malhotra, and fast, or they are gonna be chasing the puck a whole lot, which is not exactly a formula for success.

IF The Canucks can shore up their defensive woes. Good god, there have been some truly dreadful defensive breakdowns from this team of late. We saw some periods of hockey on this last road trip that were downright embarrassing. And it's not just the defencemen themselves, but the team as a whole. They're making mind-numbingly awful mistakes, blowing coverage, misreading plays and generally leaving the goaltenders hung out to dry. Most nights, Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo are capable of stealing a win when this happens. The game against Dallas shows exactly what happens when they are not. And this leads us to the next one...

IF Cory Schneider can be that goalie. He's shown at times he may be one of, if not the best goalie in the NHL. He's had his struggles, like any goaltender, but this year it's his ball to run with. And yes, there is a feeling of confidence in the fact that should Schneider falter or dog forbid, get injured, there's a pretty good backup sitting on the bench, motivated and ready to play. As crazy as the Canucks goaltending situation was this season, it would be fitting if somehow it was the advantage that propelled them through it. And finally...

IF the Canucks' best players are their best players. The Sedins have a reputation that's somewhat unfair of being shrinking violets in the postseason. In 2011 Daniel and Henrik were pretty much a point a game guys, but injuries and the resulting inability to battle through the smothering Boston defence and lack of cooperation from officials when the Bruins took countless liberties saw them neutralized rather effectively. Yes, we know Danny and Hank need to be better, and their linemate Alexandre Burrows will need to continue to be the guy we call 'Mr Everything'. Ryan Kesler will need to be in beast mode. Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison will need to keep being what's turned into a quietly effective pairing for the Canucks. They'll need secondary scoring. They'll need Zack Kassian to be physical, yet controlled presence. The list is large. The talent is there, but the instances of the team actually bringing all of these elements into play this season have been few and far between. But there have been times where teams that have struggled all season long only to come alive in the playoffs. Los Angeles' run last year was a very good example of this. Some strong play in these next 4 games could give the Canucks the head start they need.

It starts out with a game that they need to win not just because of the embarrassing asskickings they were handed in the 2 previous meetings this season, but to send a message that this team can actually rise to the occasion. The Detroit Red Wings are not the same club they've been in the past, hell they're not even the same club they were last year. There's a damn good chance they're gonna miss the dance for the first time in a couple decades, and given the Wings' dominance over the Canucks, even through the past few seasons where Vancouver has been one of the best teams in the NHL, there's a chance to put a nail in the coffin of a rival tonight, something that they really shouldn't pass up on. It's time for fine tuning. Beat these guys. Beat them and show us there's reason to Believe In Blue.

KICKASS METAL TUNE OF THE DAY

It's been a really fucked up week. I could sit here and go on about all that's happened, but I think we could all just use a break and get back to hockey. There is one song I kept going back to this week though, as I watched CNN embarrass itself with it's failed coverage of the events in Boston and Texas. This one goes out to them.


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