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7 Canucks Thoughts: Dishing out praise in the darkness & a math update

Last night wasn’t fun. Here’s hoping this lifts your spirits.

Ottawa Senators v Vancouver Canucks
J.T. Miller #9 of the Vancouver Canucks skates onto the ice before their NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena April 19, 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Well, that was a kick in the teeth.

After the Canucks lost in a shootout at the hands of Adam Gaudette, the playoff vibe has gone from “WE CONTROL OUR OWN DESTINY” to “yeah, this probably isn’t happening.”

Hopefully this spillage of thoughts helps you pick up those teeth and put them back in your mouth.

Ottawa Senators v Vancouver Canucks
Adam Gaudette #17 of the Ottawa Senators takes a shot on Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at Rogers Arena April 19, 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Narrative spinning, part 1

It’s easy to look at losses against bad teams and come to the conclusion that there’s where the Canucks season was lost.

You can think of five games in particular that fit that narrative.

The Canucks lost road games in Detroit and Buffalo in regulation back in October. They followed that up with losses against them during crucial home ice games in March as well, even though they picked up a point against the Sabres.

Then, when the team was rolling in February, Jaroslav Halak was brutal in a 7-3 road loss against the New Jersey Devils.

Finally, during a must-win game against Ottawa last night, the Canucks couldn’t leave the rink with two points.

If the Canucks pick up, say, an extra three points from the 10 that were lost here, their playoff odds would be looking a lot rosier.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) picks up a Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat (53) jersey that a Vancouver fan threw on the ice near the end of regulation time in the third period at Rogers Arena.
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

2. Narrative spinning, part 2

The above take isn’t false, but this is what the real narrative should be.

Bruce Boudreau has this Canucks team playing much better since Travis Green was fired on December 5th. While that’s true, making the playoffs after an 8-15-2 start was always going to be a monumental challenge

There are lots of positive takeaways from what this team has done over the past 4.5 months. The stars are performing like stars again. Boudreau also squeezed some juice out of a ragtag bottom six.

You hope that management doesn’t overvalue the Boudreau effect but aside from that, this is the narrative fans should focus on, rather than the nitpicky first one.

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller (9) celebrates a goal scored by forward Alex Chiasson (39) against the Arizona Coyotes in the third period at Rogers Arena. Canucks won 7-1.
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

3. Appreciating JT’s brilliance

Although he’s not quite done yet, JT Miller has put forth one of the best seasons in Canucks history.

And the funny thing about it is, we don’t even know if he’ll be back next season.

Contract drama aside, let’s take a minute to appreciate his brilliance.

  • With 93 points, Miller is in the midst of the 8th best scoring season by any player in Canucks history. If he gets five points over his next five games, he’ll pass Henrik Sedin (94, 2010-11) and Todd Bertuzzi (97, 2002-03) to finish with the sixth-best scoring season in team history.
  • Miller’s 37 power play points are tied for the seventh-best single-season mark in franchise history, along with Rick Lanz (1983-84).
  • Finally, and this might be the most impressive, Miller’s 63 assists are tied with Daniel Sedin (2010-11) the fifth-best mark by any player in Canucks history. With one more assist, he’ll move into sole possession of the fifth-most assists in a single season in team history. The only player with more is Henrik Sedin, who holds the top four spots ahead of Miller and Daniel.

4. The Pettersson return

Let’s not undersell this.

The return of Elias Pettersson is arguably the most important Canucks storyline of the season.

The possibility of sneaking into the playoffs is short-term stuff. If Pettersson kept playing like he did over the first couple months of the season, the Canucks would have had some real long-term issues.

We can now identify that road game against the Washington Capitals back on January 16th as the moment Pettersson returned. He helped the team secure a crucial win after three straight road losses against tough teams.

Since that game, Pettersson has scored 23 goals and posted 46 points in 38 games. That’s the 23rd-best mark in the league over that time.

The next player ahead of Pettersson? That’s Nathan Mackinnon (46 points in 35 games).

Vancouver needs Pettersson in the top-tier, Mackinnon-esque level if they hope of being a Stanley Cup contender in 2-3 years' time.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks forward Vasily Podkolzin (92) during a stop in play against the Ottawa Senators in the first period at Rogers Arena.
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

5. Top-six Podz

Here’s why hockey is often just more than counting stats.

On paper, Podkolzin’s 14 goals and 25 points don’t jump off the page as anything to write home about.

In fact, 25 points are slightly lower than any of us predicted for Podkolzin when we did our preseason point predictions.

(Please don’t check out my predictions for Garland...)

However, points clearly aren’t everything here.

Despite scoring at a middling bottom-six rate on the season, Podkolzin should have fans in this market salivating about his top-six potential.

He’s a menace on the forecheck in the offensive zone, his speed off the rush is truly underrated, as Bo Horvat said last week, and his defensive zone awareness is off the charts for a player his age.

Horvat also posted 25 points in his first season (in fewer games). We all saw how that has worked out over the course of his career so far.

6. What expected goals say about playoff teams

Here’s a look at the even-strength expected goals leaders on the season.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

As you can see, 14 of the top 16 teams are in the playoffs right now.

The Canucks currently sit in 18th place.

Some of the teams that the Canucks are chasing, including the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars, clearly have flaws. However, they’ve still found a way to tilt the ice in their favour in terms of expected goals.

In case you’re wondering, the two playoff teams that didn’t crack the Top-16 are the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues. Both are two of the worst teams defensively heading into the playoffs, but they’ve found success on the backs of amazing goaltending, top-five power plays and top-10 penalty kills.

For the Canucks, they have the goaltending and the power play to mimic the Blues, but you can’t be a mediocre even-strength team AND have one of the worst penalty kills in hockey if you expect to make the playoffs.

7. A math update

Kudos to Jarred Chan on Twitter for breaking down the Canucks playoff math.

This math was cut off, but if the Canucks go 5-0, here are the scenarios.

  • LA can go max 2-1-1
  • DAL can go max 2-3-1
  • NSH can go max 1-3-1
  • *VGK can go max 4-0-1

You can see from this that the Canucks pretty much have to go 4-0-1 over their five remaining games if they truly want to make the playoffs.

The next two games against Minnesota and Calgary on the road will not be easy.

If the Canucks escape that road trip with at least three points, then faint playoff hopes will still exist.