Canucks: Seven Players Who Need to Step Up for Vancouver to the Win the West
The Canucks took both the Hawks and the Wings to overtime, eventually beating Chicago and losing to Detroit in a shoot-out.
In addition to showing us how tight it is at the top of the West, the last two games have also made it obvious that if the Canucks are going to win the West and have home ice advantage all the way to the Stanley Cup, as they did last year, a number of players on the team will have to step up their games.
Particularly, here are seven players that need to elevate their play if Vancouver is to have any chance of winning the West.
No. 7: Mason Raymond
After missing the first 25 games of the season with a fractured vertebrae (an injury he suffered after being hit into the boards tailbone-first by Johnny Boychuk in Game 6 of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals), Raymond’s 2011-12 season started with a lot of promise.
He had six points (3 goals and 3 assists) in his first seven games. Since that time, however, his productivity has slowed dramatically; he has scored only seven points (three goals and four assists) in his last 19 games.
As a big part of last year’s second line, Raymond needs to put up points in order to be effective, particularly if he continues to average over 16 minutes of ice time per game.
Raymond has often been criticized for being unwilling to go to the tough areas to score goals. It’s unlikely that he’ll overhaul his game and start scoring garbage goals by out-muscling opponents, but what Raymond must do is find a way to score, as he did last night against the Red Wings.
If he can't consistently contribute on the scoresheet, Raymond’s biggest contribution to the Canucks down the stretch might just be as trade bait come the Feb. 27 NHL Trade Deadline.
No. 6: Roberto Luongo
It’s hard to say that Luongo must step up in order for the Canucks to win the West because he already has stepped up.
Like he always seems to do, Luongo started this season looking nothing like his usual self: the goalie who posted a 2.11 goals against average and a .928 save percentage in the 2010-11 regular season.
But Luongo’s game has picked up dramatically since his slow start.
His goals against average has gone from 3.54 in October, to 2.30 in November, 2.04 in December and 2.07 in January. His save percentage has improved as well, from .869 in October, to .924 in November, .928 in December and .932 in January.
There is no denying that the goalie is the most important player on any team.
There’s also no denying that, as well as backup Cory Schneider has played, it is Luongo that will get the bulk of the action down the stretch. In order for the Canucks to win the West, Luongo needs to continue to play at the level fans have seen over the last two months.
No. 5: Ryan Kesler
Although Kesler has picked up his play of late with four points in his last four games (three goals and one assist), he had just four points in the 10 games prior to that. Like a lot of players on this list, he had a poor January, a month in which the Canucks recorded only three regular season victories in 12 games.
Kesler started the season slowly, which was to be expected given the major hip injury he suffered in last year's playoffs. However, he found his form quickly and looked to be back to the player that scored 41 goals and recorded 73 points last season.
He's shown that form again recently and will need to continue that play throughout the stretch. If the Sedins continue to struggle to score goals, Kesler will be looked to lead the team at both the offensive and defensive end.
No. 4: Kevin Bieksa
Bieksa has been enigmatic throughout the season. On any given night, he can be the Canucks' best defenceman.
On any other night, he can hurt the team with bad turnovers and undisciplined penalties. Of late, fans have seen more of the latter out of Bieksa.
In January, Bieksa recorded just four assists and was a minus one, numbers that don't come close to reflecting his offensive talents. When he is at his best, Bieksa joins the rush at opportune times, delivers solid hits and generally plays his position in a way that looks effortless.
If the Canucks are going to outlast the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Sharks in what is sure to be a dogfight for the Western Conference title, Bieksa will have to play at or very near his best.
No. 3: Chris Higgins
Although he was a healthy scratch in last night's game against the Red Wings, it wouldn't be entirely fair to criticize Higgins for his poor play in recent weeks.
Higgins was extremely unlucky to have suffered through an infection to both his foot and his hand over the course of December and although he returned to the line-up on Jan. 2 against the San Jose Sharks, it was apparent that he was not at 100 percent.
As the season progresses, however, Higgins’ health is returning and with it must come a return to form on the ice. As he showed in the playoffs last year, Higgins is an important part of the Canucks’ depth scoring.
Along with Kesler and David Booth, he is one of the few forwards on the team with size, toughness and scoring ability. He’ll need to show all of those qualities if the Canucks hope to win the West again this year.
Nos. 1 and 2: Henrik and Daniel Sedin
Other than one particular player that currently sees a chiropractic neurologist as often as most players see their teammates (Sidney Crosby), no players in the NHL's post-lock-out era have been more consistent scorers than Henrik and Daniel Sedin. That's why their recent run of poor production is so hard to understand.
The twins appear to be making the same smart passes, the same disciplined cycle plays and the same accurate shots that allowed them to win the last two Art Ross trophies (Henrik in 2009-10 and Daniel in 2010-11). And yet in their last 10 games, the Sedins have recorded just five points each.
No one is questioning the Sedins' effort level, but the results simply haven't been there in recent weeks. What is apparent from the Sedins' recent poor stretch is how important they are to the Canucks' overall chances of winning the Western Conference.
The Sedins simply need to score goals. They have been the backbone of the Canucks offence since the lockout and they're counted on to put pucks in the net. Whatever the mysterious reason for their sudden poor play, the Sedins need to turn it around if the Canucks have any hope of winning the West.