The Vancouver Canucks are no longer in top spot in the Northwest Division. And that is a good thing.
The Minnesota Wild beat the Canucks 4-2 on Sunday to improve their record to 13-9-2. That put them even with the Canucks at 28 points, but due to the Canucks’ 11-7-6 record, the Wild win the tiebreaker with more regulation wins.
Coincidentally, this was also Game 24 for each team, marking the halfway point of this truncated season.
In the short term, it sucks that the Canucks lost. Especially if you spent Sunday evening watching the game.
In the long term however, this isn’t a disaster. And it could work out to be beneficial for the Canucks this spring.
Over the last few years, the Canucks have coasted to a guaranteed playoff spot and home-ice advantage as Northwest Division leader.
While the Canucks have been a good team, the Northwest Division overall was the weakest and most uncompetitive division in the NHL.
In both of the last two seasons, the Canucks won the Northwest Division by a larger margin than the combined total of the other five division leaders.
This lack of competition meant the Canucks didn’t have to worry about the regular season, since they knew they had a playoff berth with their name on it as long as they iced the Sedins and Luongo on a regular basis.
Even with the Canucks in a precipitous 3-4-3 tailspin over their last 10 games, in the background there was the safety of the guaranteed playoff spot as the Northwest Division leader.
Now the team knows they are in a dogfight for the Northwest Division, and every game matters with the season halfway over.
Issues that might have otherwise sat on the back burner will have to be addressed if the Canucks want home-ice advantage, or even to make the playoffs at all.
What is wrong with the power play?
Once a deadly weapon for the Canucks but currently in a zero-for-March funk? Change up the personnel, or change up the strategy, but something has to change.
Who is the starting goalie for the playoffs?
Roberto Luongo (5-2-3, 0.912 save percentage) has frankly outplayed Cory Schneider (6-5-3, 0.910 save percentage), but there isn’t enough crease for two goalies come playoff time, so someone has to go.
What is happening on defence?
Alex Edler has been great offensively with four goals and 12 points, but has been prone to unforced errors in his own end.
Jason Garrison on the other hand has been great defensively, but hasn’t really shown the big slap shot that was supposed to rival that of the departed Sami Salo.
And will Keith Ballard even be a Canuck after the trade deadline?
Who is supposed to be the center on this team?
With Ryan Kesler out until shortly before the playoffs with a broken foot, and Manny Malhotra sidelined with his eye injury, the Canucks have been content so far to play a winger out of position along with rookie Jordan Schroeder as two of the four centers. That isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. Even if Kesler comes back 100 percent healthy, the team still needs another center.
These and other key issues will have to be addressed by GM Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault prior to the April 3 trade deadline.
Looking at the positives though, as I mentioned being in a fight for the Northwest Division isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Canucks. All those issues need to be addressed, but more importantly, we might see some urgency from the team with every game and every point being crucial.
Too often in years past we’ve seen the Canucks amble down the stretch, content to rest players and worry about things like the Presidents' Trophy or Art Ross scoring races, unlike other teams that are fighting tooth-and-nail to just get into the playoffs.
It might be nice for the Canucks to be the hungry team for once this spring, rather than just sleepwalking through March and April and then attempting to flip the switch mentally in Game 1 of the playoffs.