However, the weak showing against the Habs on Saturday, a 4-1 loss, just poured fuel on the fire.
This was the only time the storied Habs were coming out to Vancouver. It was the marquee game on Hockey Night in Canada.
You have the connection of Quebec-born players Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo, Maxim Lapierre and Marc-Andre Gragnani playing against the franchise they cheered for as kids.
Chris Higgins was drafted and broke into the league as a Canadien.
Alain Vigneault was the head coach in Montreal once upon a time.
The Canucks were coming off a strong game against the Winnipeg Jets earlier in the week, and the Habs were in the midst of their longest road trip of the year.
It all seemed aligned for the Canucks to come out strong and put together a solid game.
But it all fell apart in the second and third periods, and yet another game gets chalked up in the loss column.
The Canucks have only lost 19 times in regulation this season; they've managed to do it three times in the last four games. Taking a broader look, the Canucks are a pedestrian 4-4-2 in their last 10 games.
The Sedins have been snake-bitten. Daniel Sedin, the reigning Art Ross winner, has only a single point to show for his last eight games. Henrik Sedin, a consistent point-a-game (or better) player since the lockout and the 2010 Art Ross winner, hasn't even managed a single point in that same eight-game span.
The rest of the team isn't doing much better. Some players might have strong games, but not consistently. When it comes down to the third period with the game on the line, Vigneault looks down his bench and sees far more players who aren't playing well than those that are having strong games.
Vancouver fans, not noted for being the most level headed, have been jumping off the bandwagon in droves.
So what is causing this slump?
-A. Is this just a statistical anomaly?
The dark mirror image of Minnesota's mirage-like start to the season? Essentially, is the team just going through an unlucky streak where they aren't getting the bounces?
-B. Is the new (or old, if you prefer) officiating standards of the last few months taking their toll on a highly-skilled team?
Has the reversion to a level of clutch-and-grab that we haven't seen in the regular season since the pre-lockout era shut down the Canucks collection of skilled forwards?
And has the lack of power plays in general been a detriment to a team that thrives on special teams play?
-C. Is the team just plain tired? The Canucks did go through a month of February where they criss-crossed the continent repeatedly while racking up the NHL's best road record. Is it just that the team needs a chance to unwind and refresh?
If this is the case, then this week should help to right the ship. The Canucks have a light schedule, only playing on Wednesday and Saturday. Vigneault also gave the team a pair of days off after the Montreal game.
-D. Is it a case of the team collectively, if not consciously, not giving a damn about the regular season?
The Canucks have wrapped up the Northwest Division title with a 16-point lead over second-place Calgary, and therefore are guaranteed at least the No. 3 seed. They have an 11-point lead over the Pacific Division, so essentially they are guaranteed second place in the West.
Yes, they could work their asses off and catch the St Louis Blues for the Presidents' Trophy (they are currently five points back with a game in hand), but why bother wasting that effort immediately prior to the playoffs?
Winning the Presidents' Trophy (or Selke, Art Ross, Jennings, etc.) means squat if you don't win in the playoffs. As I wrote in the beginning of the year, the Canucks will be defined by their postseason success, or lack thereof. The regular season is just an extended 82-game delay until the playoff start.
Finishing second still guarantees them home-ice advantage at least until the Western Conference Finals, and maybe beyond if there is an upset along the way.
Ultimately, I think all the theories have a bit of weight behind them, but I think "D" is the biggest factor to the Canucks' current woes.
If the Canucks play .500 hockey the rest of the way, but win handily in Game 1 of the first round, then all is forgiven and forgotten.
If they lose the first game of the playoffs, then regardless of how well they play down the stretch, this slump will be talked about ad nauseam.
We'll see in April if this slump was a harbinger of tough times ahead for the Canucks, or just a momentary blip during a regular season that just doesn't have significance anymore.
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