5 Biggest Reasons Vancouver Canucks Should Be Confident About 2013 Playoffs
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With a week to go in the regular season, the Vancouver Canucks have secured their playoff spot.
The Canucks are starting to round into form and show their potential, giving fans a reason to be confident in their team, unlike last spring when the Canucks limped in down the stretch and were handed a tough defeat in the first round by the L.A. Kings.
Here are five reasons to believe that the 2013 playoffs will end better than the 2012 playoffs for the Canucks.
5. Depth at Center
Derek Roy, the Canucks' trade-deadline acquisition.
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The Vancouver Canucks are deeper at center than they have been in the last decade.
Henrik Sedin is putting up almost a point a game while centering the top line with his brother, Daniel Sedin, and Alex Burrows. As the Canucks have been dealing with injuries, the top line has been providing the lion's share of the offense and keeping the team afloat.
Ryan Kesler has returned from the injured list and is centering the second line. He seems back in top form and has 12 points in 14 games, so far this year.
Derek Roy was the Canuck's key acquisition at the trade deadline, and he is arguably the best offensive player picked up by a playoff team. Centering the third line, Roy will allow the Canucks to roll three scoring lines, a luxury they haven't had since the 2010-11 season.
Maxim Lapierre will center the fourth line, and along with Kesler's line, should get most of the defensive assignments. Lapierre historically picks up his game in the playoffs when emotions run high and should be a key contributor.
The Canucks have four good NHL-quality centres and the wingers to go along with them. Even in their playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, the Canucks only had three centers, and therefore, really just rolled three lines.
Rolling four lines, and with three of them centered by players with point-a-game seasons on their resume, the Canucks can get back to the up-tempo offensive style of game that plays to their strengths.
4. Power Play
The Canucks celebrate a power-play goal against Detroit.
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Historically, the Vancouver Canucks try to play a skill game and use their potent power play to deter other teams from taking liberties with their skilled players, especially the Sedin twins.
In 2010-11, the Canucks had the league's best power play with 24.3 percent and rode that to a President's Trophy and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
In 2011-12, the power play declined somewhat to 19.8 percent efficiency, still good for fourth-best in the NHL that season. However, down the stretch and into the playoffs, it was largely silent, playing a large role in the Canucks' upset by the L.A. Kings.
When the power play works, the Canucks usually win.
The 2011 Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks is a great example of this, as the Sharks tried to physically intimidate the Canucks and ended up losing the series due to the Canucks' power play instead.
When the power play doesn't work, the Canucks run into big problems against physical teams.
The Boston Bruins hammered the Canucks mercilessly in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, as did the L.A. Kings in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, doing so with impunity because the Canucks couldn't score on the power play.
Needless to say, the Canucks lost both series.
This year, the power play has been a major cause for concern, being more impotent than potent and often taking away momentum from the Canucks. The Canucks are a dismal 23rd in the league on the power play with 15.0 percent.
However, the power play has actually been working quite well since the trade-deadline acquisition of Derek Roy and the return of Ryan Kesler from injury.
In the nine games since the trade deadline, the Canucks have scored seven goals on 27 power-play opportunities, good for a 25.9 percent efficiency over that span.
This is more in line with the kind of efficiency the Canucks enjoyed in their 2011 playoff run, and it's a cause for optimism heading into the playoffs.
3. Confidence in Goal
Cory Schneider makes a save in the shootout.
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Cory Schneider is simply amazing this year, posting a 0.926 save percentage, good for sixth overall in the NHL.
His goals against average of 2.15 also ranks him 10th overall in the NHL amongst starting goalies.
In the last game for the Vancouver Canucks, Schneider was the first star as he absolutely robbed Detroit to simultaneously put a stake in the Red Wing's playoff hopes and clinch a playoff spot for the Canucks. He stopped 28 of 29 shots and then stoned all three Red Wing shooters in the shootout.
Unlike in last year's playoffs, there is no controversy or distraction for the team over who is going to start in the playoffs.
This is Schneider's team now, and while Roberto Luongo is the best backup in the NHL until his inevitable trade, Schneider should start every game.
2. Daniel Sedin
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Daniel Sedin, along with his brother Henrik, is a key part of the Vancouver Canucks' offense.
The twins run the power play, and along with linemate Alex Burrows, provide the lion's share of the even strength scoring as well.
During their 2011 playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals, Daniel Sedin scored nine goals, the most amongst the Canucks. He also recorded 20 points, which puts him second on the team behind his brother's 22 points.
This came on the heels of his Art Ross-winning, 104-point regular season.
In the 2012 playoffs, he recorded zero goals and only two points, thanks to a gutless Duncan Keith elbow that saw Keith suspended for five games while Daniel Sedin missed almost a month with a concussion before returning to play only two playoff games.
This year, Daniel is back on track, scoring 11 goals and 38 points. A resurgent Daniel Sedin on the top line and power play is a great thing for the Canucks and a source of worries for any playoff opponent.
1. Ryan Kesler
The biggest reason for optimism amongst Vancouver Canucks fans is that Ryan Kesler is healthy. A healthy Kesler can carry a team on his back in the playoffs.
Kesler can score goals and dominate a series as he did against Nashville in the second round of the 2011 playoffs.
Or he can shut down a superstar on the other team, as he did in the first round of the 2011 playoffs against Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Unfortunately, as Canucks fans well know, an injured Ryan Kesler is less than ideal. He was injured in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals and went from serious Conn Smythe consideration to being invisible against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the first-round ouster against the L.A. Kings in 2012, Kesler was again playing wounded and ended the series without a goal.
In both 2011 and 2012, Kesler would require surgery and a lengthy recovery time.
Going into the 2013 playoffs, Kesler is healthy and fully recovered from his numerous surgeries. He looks more like the dominant player of 2011 who scored 41 goals while winning the Selke trophy and then stormed through three rounds of the playoffs.
As the forward who logs the most ice time, gets the toughest defensive assignments and plays both specials teams, Kesler's effectiveness will go a long way in determining how far the Canucks can go in the playoffs.