Vancouver Canucks: 4 Reasons Why They're Better Suited for the Playoffs
From GM Mike Gillis down to the team on the ice, the Canucks have appeared more focused and have taken on more of an even keel attitude in this seasons quest for the Cup.
It started last summer with Gillis and his management team addressing the personnel issues. They needed more quality defensemen. Gillis got them. They needed a better third line. Gillis solved that problem as well.
The players also did their part before the season started when their former captain, Roberto Luongo, took it upon himself to give up the captaincy because he thought it would make him and the team better. It clearly did and the Canucks ended up with 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the regular season.
But can they continue their dominance in the playoffs? It’s a valid question to ask.
After all, the Canucks won their division in each of the past two regular seasons and were promptly eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in back-to-back playoff series. This is the same Chicago team they face in the opening round of this postseason.
However, this time around might be different for the Canucks. The core of their team still consists of the same players, but there are several differences in this edition of the Canucks that will help them during their playoff run.
Everyone knows it takes four wins to move on in a playoff series and four series victories to capture Lord Stanley’s mug. Therefore, I present the four biggest reasons why the Vancouver Canucks are better suited for the playoffs this time around.
Last season the Canucks were a team that played with passion. However, that passion also came with trash talking and the need for physical vengeance, which often resulted in bad penalties. In fact, the Canucks were the fifth most penalized team in the NHL last season, and it had a direct impact on their demise against Chicago in the second round.
The Blackhawks got in their heads and baited the Canucks into losing their focus and taking stupid penalties. These are things you simply can’t do in a playoff series against any opponent, let alone a team with a power play as lethal as the Blackhawks.
This season, however, Vancouver has made a concerted effort to be a much calmer team. The passion is still there, but the focus is on the game itself and not the extra-curricular activities after the whistle.
Maybe this is due to the even keel attitude of their new captain, Henrik Sedin, and his influence on the locker room. Maybe it’s the departure of the ill-tempered, trash-talking Shane O’Brien. Either way, the Canucks have decreased their time spent in the box considerably this season. They’ve gone from the 26th least penalized team to the 13th least penalized team in the league.
This new found discipline will surely help the Canucks in their 2011 Stanley Cup run.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Ryan Kesler is my next reason why the Canucks will be better in the 2011 playoffs. Kesler was one of the Canucks known for trash talking and extra-curricular activity after the whistle last season. But he’s been much better at controlling his temper this season and has shifted his focus strictly to hockey.
The result of Kelser’s attitude adjustment in 2010-2011 was a 41-goal output (16 more than last season) and a sharp decrease in penalty minutes (66 compared to 104 in 2009-2010).
Kesler will be a key to both Vancouver’s offense and defence this postseason as he is arguably the team's top penalty killer. It’s important that he continues his disciplined play and is actually on the ice for the penalty kill and not in the penalty box.
The depth on the blue line was maybe the most glaring weakness in the Canucks game when they were eliminated from the postseason in 2010. GM Mike Gillis was well aware of this and did something about it last summer. He traded for a solid, proven defenseman in Keith Ballard and then he signed free agent stud defenseman Dan Hamhuis.
Combine that with the improvement of Kevin Bieksa and Canucks fans have been able to breathe much easier this season when one of their defenseman is forced to miss time due to an injury.
In fact, you could make the argument that all of the injuries to the defence this season has actually helped Vancouver. It’s given depth players like Andrew Alberts and especially Aaron Rome a chance to play more and be on the ice in important situations.
This is something they might not have had the opportunity to do had everyone stayed healthy all season and it’s made them better players as a result. It also gave the top six D-men a chance to be paired with different players in case an injury situation should arise in the playoffs.
The depth is better for the Canucks this time around on the blue line, but the most important part of a teams defence stands between the pipes. This brings me to my top reason.
Not many athletes would voluntarily give up being the captain of a professional sports team. But Roberto Luongo was thinking of the team first when he told Mike Gillis that it would be better for his performance on the ice and the team in the locker room if someone else took on that role.
To be honest, I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it’s proven to be the best thing for everyone involved. Luongo has had the best statistical season of his career and he seems like a much more relaxed person.
Perhaps he’s mirrored the more even-keeled attitude of his new captain or perhaps it has something to do with the Canucks new goalie coach Roland Melanson. But what most fans will probably point to is the emergence of the Canucks latest backup goaltender Cory Schneider.
Schneider has been nothing short of outstanding when he’s been called upon to give Luongo a night off this season. The rookie has posted a 2.23 goals against average and a .929 save percentage this season. He’s played so well that he’s even been mentioned in the discussion for the Calder trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, despite having only played in 25 games.
All of this has given Canucks coach Alain Vigneault the luxury of resting Luongo more often during the season. Luongo played in eight fewer games this season and didn’t have the Olympics to deal with either.
It’s been proven in previous years that an overworked Roberto Luongo is not the best recipe for playoff success. This season Luongo has been given a few more nights off and has looked better than ever as a result. There’s no reason to think this strong play won’t continue in the playoffs, which is a great sign for the Vancouver Canucks and their fans.