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5 Burning Questions the Vancouver Canucks Must Answer Early in 2013 Season

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2013

5 Burning Questions the Vancouver Canucks Must Answer Early in 2013 Season

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    Two weeks into the abbreviated 2013 NHL schedule, the Vancouver Canucks sit atop the Northwest Division with 10 points in eight games.

    However, Vancouver is just two points ahead of the fourth-place Colorado Avalanche. With their next four games against division rivals, the Canucks need to continue their winning ways. Right now, another run to the division championship and a guaranteed top-three playoff seed is far from guaranteed.

    Here are five burning questions surrounding the Canucks as we move into February.

5. Will There Be Offense?

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    Heading into Monday night's contest, the Canucks are in a four-way tie for 20th in the NHL in offensive production—with their division rivals Colorado, the Edmonton Oilers and the Minnesota Wild.

    So far, Vancouver's production has been just 2.38 goals per game. That's a far cry from the 3.15 goals a game that led the league in 2010-11 or even the 2.94 goals per game that was good for fifth place last season.

    As Darryl Dobbs of The Hockey News points out, the early season scoring race is being dominated by players who saw game action during the lockout. The Canucks had only a few players in Europe but their most productive forward so far, Zack Kassian, played with the AHL Chicago Wolves.

    It may take a little time for offensive players who were idle, like Daniel and Henrik Sedin, to get all their timing back and start producing at their usual levels.

    Last week, the Canucks saw their defensive play take a big step forward. Is this the week they start to score?

4. Where Are the Shots?

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    Perhaps the lack of offense is due to a lack of shots on goal. After eight games, the Canucks are 22nd in the NHL with 220 shots on goal, an average of 27.5 per game.

    Last season, they averaged 31.5 per game, and in 2010-11 the number was 32.

    The only one of their opponents that the Canucks have outshot so far this year is the Anaheim Ducks—in both the 7-3 opening-night loss in Vancouver and the 5-0 shutout in Anaheim.

    For the moment, the Canucks are getting points primarily due to superior goaltending, but they need to start matching their opponents' offensive chances if they want to start winning more consistently and by larger margins, taking those potentially dangerous 'loser points' out of the equation.

3. How Much Longer, Kes?

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    On Feb. 3, Ryan Kesler participated in his first practice with his teammates since undergoing shoulder and wrist surgery during the summer.

    Steve Ewen of The Province reports that there is still no timeline for Kesler's return, though he is traveling with the team this week for their games in Edmonton and Minnesota.

    Kesler's leadership, tenacity and offense have been missed. His return should provide a spark that helps ignite the Canucks' determination and makes the team a little tougher to play against.

2. Why the Not-so-Special Teams?

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    After eight games, the Vancouver Canucks' power play is ranked 17th in the NHL and their penalty kill is 20th.

    After an awful start in the penalty killing department, Vancouver was perfect against the potent Chicago Blackhawks on February 1, but failed to capitalize on four man-advantage opportunities of their own.

    Kesler's return will help the special teams on both offense and defense but until he comes back, the team needs to find a way to be better with the manpower they have available. Jason Garrison was brought in as a free agent because of his production last year on Florida's power play. It's hoped that he will duplicate those numbers with the Canucks.

1. Can Luongo Keep It Up?

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    Roberto Luongo was named the NHL's third star for the week ending Feb. 3.

    In three games, he tallied a 2-0-1 record thanks to a 0.95 goals-against average and .963 save percentage, also recording his first shutout of the year against Colorado. He now sits second in the NHL in both GAA and save percentage, behind the Ottawa Senators' Craig Anderson.

    Luongo gets his fourth consecutive start on Monday night against Edmonton, as coach Alain Vigneault continues to go with the hot hand.

    After all the talk of his imminent trade, Luongo is clearly relishing the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. How much longer will that be in Vancouver?

     

    Thanks for reading. Share your thoughts in the comments about Vancouver's start and how you expect these burning questions to play out.

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