4 Reasons the Vancouver Canucks Will Make a Run for the 2013 Stanley Cup
Don't look now, but the Vancouver Canucks might be finding their long-lost mojo.
Monday night's dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Edmonton Oilers kept the Canucks in the top spot of the Northwest Division and raised their record to 5-2-2. The team's now on a three-game winning streak as it heads to Minnesota to face the slumping Wild on Thursday night.
Over the last week, the Canucks have started to show some signs that they've got what it takes to make another serious Stanley Cup run this spring. Here are the top four reasons why fans should be hopeful.
4. The Youth Movement
The Canucks have a well-established veteran core. Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler have all been Vancouver property since the end of the last lockout in 2005.
They're a tight group and they've had success, which has made it difficult for young players to gain a foothold in the organization over the past few years.
This year looks different. The Canucks' last two game-winning goals have been scored by Chris Tanev, age 23, in overtime, and by Jordan Schroeder, age 22, in a shootout. Zack Kassian, age 22, leads the team with five goals of his own. It's not on par with the Oilers' youth movement, but it's a step forward for a team that hasn't picked higher than 10th since taking the Sedin twins second and third overall in 1999.
On the Los Angeles Kings' cup run last spring, rookies like Dwight King and Slava Voynov stepped up and made meaningful contributions to their team. The Canucks' kids are looking good so far in this short season.
3. Healthy Bodies
Ryan Kesler is traveling with the team on their current road trip. There's still no timeline for his return, but at this stage we're likely now counting in days, rather than weeks or months.
Once Kesler gets back in the lineup, that will leave only winger David Booth on the injured list as he recovers from his groin strain.
Since the season began, the Canucks have yet to suffer any injuries—knock on wood. Last year, fans saw how the team's fortunes changed after Daniel Sedin was sidelined with just a few weeks left in the season.
It's inevitable that some man-games are going to be lost along the way, but there's hope that all hands will be on deck when the playoffs start in April.
2. Improved Toughness
After nine games, the Canucks have taken seven major penalties, tying them for seventh in the NHL standings, according to hockeyfights.com. In 2010-11, when the team was widely accused of being pushed around by the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, they took just 31 majors all year, ranking them 22nd overall.
Boston was third that year, by the way.
Vancouver remains a skill team whose speed is its biggest asset. Last season, the Canucks got tougher and that trend continues this year. So far, Aaron Volpatti, Bieksa, Kassian and Dale Weise have all dropped the gloves. Other willing pugilists on the roster include Max Lapierre, Keith Ballard and Booth, as well as extra defensemen Andrew Alberts, Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer.
Using Kassian, in particular, in a top six role helps to ensure that other teams won't take liberties with players like the Sedin twins. Henrik has shown some spunk of his own, too, laying the most meaningful hit of the night on public enemy No. 1, Duncan Keith, last week against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Henrik has eight hits in nine games and is easily on track to surpass his total of 32 from all of last season. As a team, the Canucks have moved up the hit chart from 18th last year to 12th so far in 2012-13. If they continue this physical style of play, the Canucks' reputation as a hard team to play against can only increase.
At that time, my main focus was on the Canucks getting the best return for their valuable asset. Now that the short season is underway, Vancouver would be well served to keep both goalies until the end of the year.
Luongo's stock has certainly risen with his great play, but so far even struggling teams appear reluctant to make big deals. The unusual circumstances of the lockout-shortened season make it tougher to assess talent, and a short-term fix might not be in a team's long-term best interests.
Though so-called "backup" Luongo has played more minutes so far, Cory Schneider will get the Canucks' next start in Minnesota on Thursday. He'll get his chances to show that he's the quality netminder the Canucks believed they had when they signed him to a $12 million deal last summer.
For both Schneider and Luongo, nothing would look better on their resume than a Stanley Cup. If they stay in Vancouver, it just might happen.
What do you think? Do the Canucks have what it takes for a cup run in 2012-13? Sound off in the comments below.
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