Last season, the Vancouver Canucks were the turnaround gang.
After a mediocre first half of the season, they came back from their Christmas turkeys to post an league-best 29-8-6 record in the second half, capturing the Northwest Division title in the process.
The crappy-to-fantastic about-face caused delirious joy among Canucks boosters. With this joy came heightened expectations—both of which faded with the Canucks' fortunes much too early in the playoffs.
At the start of this year, the Canucks sucked again, but encouragingly their turnaround time was much shorter: They went from a subpar 5-7 record in October (including just one win in six tries on their home ice) to a 16-7-4 record through November and December.
The reason for both turnarounds?
Two words: Roberto Luongo.
In Vancouver they call him Jesus. Or maybe just "Jesus, he’s good."
Everywhere else, he’s known simply as the best goaltender in the league.
Some may argue that point, but few would argue that Roberto Luongo is the Vancouver Canucks' MVP. Then again, there’s not a lot of competition, as the team boasts few big names—the Sedin Twins, Markus Naslund, Bob Clarke’s boycrush Ryan Kesler...and I’m already stretching.
The point is this: The Canucks are again a pretty good team with a great goaltender. The question is whether they can convert the strong team play and great goaltending into another big second half.
If the answer is yes, much of the credit goes to supercoach Alain Vigneault, who continues to coax excellent performances out of a team that is really only okay. Less credit goes to GM Dave Nonis, who continues to defy the accepted wisdom—namely that the Canucks need more offensive firepower if they want to go deep in the posteason.
Still, Vigneault does the best with what he’s got.
Recent example: Coach Vigneault is looking up and down his bench for a player to go in in Round Five of a shootout against Rick DiPietro of the Islanders. Not seeing an obvious choice, he makes an unlikely one: a rookie defenseman who’s scored only two goals so far this season, and never participated in a shootout.
That rookie is Alexander Edler—and he beat DiPietro, winning the game with a quick shot five hole.
But not as improbable as the repeat performance five nights later.
The next time time Edler went second and beat Manny Legace for the only goal of the shootout. Two game-winning shootout goals in as many tries—doubling his goal output through 43 games.
Now I don’t mean to suggest Edler isn’t good; in fact, he’s having an outstanding rookie season (eighth in the league in plus/minus, averaging over 24 minutes of ice time a night, selected for the Young Stars competition).
But he’s also a Canuck, which means unless he’s playing in goal, or has a twin brother who also plays for the Canucks, he’s not spectacular.
Still, this team continues to build on the strong play of its goaltender to play solid hockey. What remains to be seen is if they'll continue to have succes after the All-Star Break...and if the management will make any moves to get them some scoring help.