Vancouver Canucks: What We Learned from the First Road Trip of 2011-2012

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Vancouver Canucks: What We Learned from the First Road Trip of 2011-2012
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The first full week of the 2011-2012 NHL regular season is in the books and so is the first of many road trips for the Vancouver Canucks.

By comparison, this mini-trip doesn’t compare to the two six-game road swings they’ll have to make later on, and it doesn’t even come close to comparing to their 14-game trip in early 2010 due to the Olympic games. Then again, the WHL’s Vancouver Giants played 27 straight games away from their home rink because of the Olympics, so no NHL team should be complaining about road trips.

As far as the Canucks are concerned, though, this small trip was their first chance to learn the mental make-up of their team in 2011-12. It was also a chance to find out what they need to improve going forward so they can hopefully shake the reputation of being a subpar October team for the rest of the month.

So what did we learn from this trip?

To be honest, not a whole lot considering the Canucks played the same way they’ve played to start the last four seasons, which is mediocre. They avoided embarrassment by beating the teams they have to beat, but they failed their early season tests against the other Stanley Cup contenders. However, there were a few things that can be taken away from this trip that were question marks heading into the start of the regular season.

The biggest wild card player on the Canucks was and still is Marco Sturm. After multiple knee surgeries in the last year, many wondered where the 33-year-old German would fit in with the Canucks and if he’d be able to rediscover the goal scorer that he was just a couple of year ago.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good for Sturm through the first five games of the season as he’s looked more like the player who wore No. 15 last season for the Canucks (Tanner Glass) than the player that scored 20 goals in seven previous NHL seasons. In fact, Sturm was already demoted to the fourth line midway through the final game of the road trip on Saturday in Edmonton and that’s with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond not in the lineup. Now that Kesler is ready to make his return, the future doesn’t look bright for Sturm in a Canucks uniform even though we’re only five games into the season.

A positive thing we learned from this road trip is that Cody Hodgson can hack it as a second-line center in the NHL, at least for a few games. Hodgson didn’t overwhelm anyone with his talent, but he did look solid and was one of the few consistent playmakers outside of the top line during the road trip. He even picked up a couple of points on the trip (one goal and one assist) and could have had more as he generated several scoring chances. Now we’re going to learn if he can hack it as a second-line winger, assuming that’s where he is placed starting in the next game when Ryan Kesler makes his return.

Despite the solid play of Hodgson on the road trip, we also learned that without Kesler and Raymond the Canucks don’t have the depth we thought they had up front and are really just a one-line hockey club. The Sedin twins and Alex Burrows have carried the team for the majority of the first five games, setting up nine of the team's 14 goals. It’s great that the big guns look as good as ever, but the Canucks need more than just the occasional goal from the other three lines to remain the best in the West. This will hopefully change with Kesler’s return.

If there was one new thing that Canucks fans hoped to learn about but didn’t, it was Roberto Luongo. He proved once again that he is just not very good in October, and this is nothing new to anyone who has followed the Canucks since his arrival to Vancouver. Luongo has yet to give up less than three goals in a game and, while he at least looked decent in Edmonton last Saturday, his GAA is still 3.61 and his save percentage is only .871. He also showed us in the first game of the season before the road trip began that he still looks more uncomfortable in shootouts than he does in the TD Gardens against the Boston Bruins.

Fortunately for the Canucks, we also learned that Cory Schneider is still one of the best backups in the league and played well in his two starts on the trip, despite only winning one of them. Most of us already knew this, but it’s always nice to get confirmation from a young goalie.

So if you read this hoping to uncover a whole new side to the Vancouver Canucks then I’m sorry to disappoint you. After all, we are only five games into the season and the Canucks are generally the same team they were last year. Unfortunately, that includes their subpar starts to the season, which is no different this year.

Follow me on Twitter: @adam_graham

This article also appears on Bottom Line Hockey

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