Thankfully in Vancouver, it’s a brand new decade.
While the last decade boasted the best squad in club history, the latter half of the 2010’s was chock full of losing. For their efforts, The Athletic gave Vancouver the prestigious label of putting forth one of the most mediocre 10-year performances of the 2010’s.
However, an optimist might tell you that the Canucks winning ways to start the decade is a sign of things to come. While I won’t hop on that drunkenly-positive bandwagon, I will list six things I’ve learned about this team during the first three weeks of the decade.
Horvat and Reinhart exchanged goals in the 2nd, it's 2-2 after 2. pic.twitter.com/5rdE42QXFn— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 11, 2020
1. Bo Horvat is doing it again
Just when you think he can’t get any better, he proves you wrong.
That’s been Bo Horvat’s story throughout his career, and that story line has resurfaced once again in his sixth NHL season.
At Christmas, Horvat was seven points back of the third-highest scoring Canuck, J.T. Miller. Not even one month later, he’s two points back of Miller, and only one point back of the Canucks third-highest scorer, Brock Boeser.
With 42 points in 49 games, he’s now on pace for 70 points for the first time in his career.
2. Tanner Pearson is the perfect complement for Bo
For years, we’ve talked about Bo Horvat’s revolving door of wingers. While Pearson seemed to solve that problem after the trade deadline last season, the two didn’t get off to a rocking start in 2019-20.
Now that we’re 49 games in, it’s clear that Pearson fits the bill of someone who belongs in the top-six alongside Horvat. The Canucks captain has only scored more at even-strength with Brock Boeser and Loui Eriksson over the past three seasons.
3. Everybody loves Loui...for now
One of the most bizarre experiences for me since coming back to Canada has been everyone’s love affair with Loui Eriksson.
Of course, it’s all relative for a guy who’s making $6 million while occupying the press box for most of the season. It is nice to see Eriksson finally find a spot on this team, at least temporarily.
I can’t help but feel like this will feel like a strange dream by season’s end. Eriksson is still trailing Horvat and Pearson in ice time by more than four minutes on average since the beginning of January, showing us that Travis Green doesn’t fully trust the 34-year-old in all situations.
4. Virtanen is finally turning a corner, perhaps...
We’ve heard this narrative before. Whether it’s true or not, this is easily the most consistent stretch of play Jake Virtanen has shown since becoming a full-time NHLer.
Virtanen has eight goals and 19 points in his last 24 games, and it’s the consistency of his performance that should have fans excited. He’s also the Canucks fifth-best player over that stretch with a Corsi of 51.3%.
There are some signs that Virtanen’s hot streak has been a tad lucky. His possession numbers plummet when you look at scoring chances, and his expected goals-for number sits at 46%. Still, his shooting percentage of 15% isn’t outrageous, and he’s going to keep putting up numbers as long as he’s on that top line.
5. Jordie Benn deserves another shot
While filling in for Alex Edler, Oscar Fantenberg played his way into a permanent position after a steadying performance in December. However since Christmas, his effectiveness has dropped off.
Fantenberg has been on the ice for more goals-per 60 minutes than any other Canucks defenceman, and only Jay Beagle is worse on the team. His scoring chance differential of 30% is also troubling.
The 27-year-old Swede might have earned his spot at the start, but it’s about time that Jordie Benn gets another chance to impress. You can bet the Victoria native is hungry to draw back in and provide that physical edge from the back end that Fantenberg lacks.
6. Jacob Markstrom is one of the NHL’s best goaltenders
It’s now been more than 13 months since Jacob Markstrom was considered a below-average NHL starter. After a slow start to the season in 2018-19, the 30-year-old has cemented his status as one of the best starting netminders in hockey.
Since his turnaround on Dec. 1st, 2018, Markstrom is 11th with 38 wins and 12th with a .918 save percentage. He jumps into the top 10 if you take out the 20ish game sample sizes from Tristan Jarry, Elvis Merzlikins and Pavel Francouz.
His contract situation will be an intriguing one to watch in the coming months, but it’s going to be hard for Jim Benning and company not to pay up for Markstrom’s services if he carries this team into the playoffs.