Here we are with 50 games in the books for the 2021-22 NHL season and the Canucks sit at 52 points.
While factoring in games-in-hand and points percentage dampens the mood, the Canucks do find themselves only 3 points out of the last Wild Card spot in the West.
In their last 2 contests, the Canucks were able to skin out a couple of close wins despite being outworked for the majority of both games.
On Saturday against Toronto, the Canucks were able to ride off a franchise-record tying 51-save performance from Thatcher Demko to secure a 3-2 win over the Leafs.
On Thursday night against the Sharks, while Demko wasn’t his usual brilliant self, the offense came through. The Canucks had 5 different players ripple the mesh en route to a 5-4 victory in overtime courtesy of J.T. Miller’s 3rd overtime-winning goal in the season.
Let’s take a look at 1 pro and 1 con, as well as a concluding thought before the Canucks return to the ice on Saturday to play a division rival in the Anaheim Ducks.
Pro: The return of OEL
When it was announced following All-Star weekend that Quinn Hughes had been placed in the NHL Covid protocol and would be unavailable for the team’s first 4 games, fans were quite concerned.
Certainly, no one can blame them either. After all, Quinn Hughes is the most reliable defenseman for a team that is way too shallow on the backend.
However, with Quinn Hughes unavailable, the Canucks’ big offseason acquisition, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, burst onto the scene.
On Saturday against the Leafs, OEL had 1 assist and recorded 3 shots on goal in over 25 minutes of ice time. In addition to that, the 30-year-old also had 2 hits and 1 shot block en route to the 3-2 victory for the Canucks.
On Thursday against the Sharks, OEL added yet another assist to his stat sheet. With the assist, the veteran defenseman extended his point streak to 5 games, recording his 7th point within that span.
Con: Special Teams problems also return
If it hadn’t been for the stellar goaltending of Thatcher Demko on Saturday, the turning point of the game for the Canucks would have been their special teams.
While Brock Boeser scored with the man advantage in the 1st period, the Canucks failed to capitalize on their next 4 opportunities and finished the game 1 for 5 on the powerplay.
More frustrating than that was the team’s penalty-killing, which has undoubtedly been the Achilles heel of the Canucks all season long.
In both the Leafs and Sharks games, the Canucks could only manage to kill off 2 out of a total of 6 penalties as they ended up surrendering four powerplay goals in the process.
Furthermore, the powerplay was absolutely terrible against the Sharks, as the Canucks had 4 opportunities but only managed to put a combined total of 2 shots on goal both coming off the stick of Nils Hoglander.
For what it's worth, the Canucks have made things interesting in regards to the battle for the last wildcard spot in the West. However, if they have any hope of leapfrogging the plethora of teams in front of them, they would have to figure out their special teams' problems as soon as possible.
Otherwise, pretty much as the case has been all season, the Canucks will start dropping games again on the heels of their special teams, which would go a long way in pushing the team even further down in the league’s overall standings.
Concluding thought: The significance of Saturday
The next game for the Canucks is significant in regards to the battle for the last Wild Card spot as they will take on the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
Both teams have already played 50 games in the season and the Ducks have 55 points compared to Vancouver’s 52, which puts them just 1 point out of a Wild Card spot.
There is no doubt that this game is extremely significant as a win in regulation would put the Canucks just 1 point behind the Ducks in the standings, and would be a huge boost if they hope to leapfrog the Ducks as well as the other teams around them and somehow work their way back into a playoff position.
While there is still faint hope, that will fade fast with a loss on Saturday.