Vancouver Canucks Reclaim Their Rightful Spot as Northwest Division Leaders

Joel Prosser@@JoelProsserCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2011

VANCOUVER, CANADA - DECEMBER 26: Alexandre Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks watches the shot of teammate Daniel Sedin #22 (not pictured) go over the shoulder of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin #35 of the Edmonton Oilers for a goal during the first period in NHL action on December 26, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Rich Lam/Getty Images

The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 in Vancouver Monday night, moving into the top spot in the Northwest Division for the first time this year.

More importantly, the win vaults the Canucks from sixth to second in the Western Conference. 

The Canucks crushed the Oilers through balanced scoring, picking up goals from the usual suspects in Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin. But they also got a pair of goals from Andrew Ebbett.

All in all, eight of the Canucks forwards hit the scoresheet as they came at the Oil in waves.

The only reason the game even looked close was a pair of power-play goals by the Oilers during a five-minute power play thanks to a blown call on Dale Weise.

And even then, the Oilers gave up a short-handed goal to Burrows in that span, so they only ended marginally ahead after the power play. 

The five-minute major and game misconduct on Weise was a blown call because it was a simple shoulder-to-shoulder hit.

It was a violent impact, so a minor for charging would have been appropriate, but the major and game misconduct were handed out simply due to the blood on the ice. 

Sure, Oilers defenceman Alex Plante ended up bleeding all over the ice with what looked like a broken nose, and it looked horrible, but this wasn't boarding or a head hit.  

It was a clean shoulder to shoulder hit by a winger forechecking on a defender trying to move up the boards with the puck.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - DECEMBER 26: Blood drips off the face of Alex Plante #48 of the Edmonton Oilers after he was hit by Dale Weise #2 of the Vancouver Canucks during the second period in NHL action on December 26, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Britis
Rich Lam/Getty Images

Unfortunately, Plante wasn't braced to take the hit and was spun by the impact, apparently nose first, into the glass. 

Oilers fans will disagree, but I can't see this being a suspension.  

Brendan Shanahan will take a look at it due to the game misconduct, probably call both players involved, but ultimately this was an injury caused by a clean shoulder-to-shoulder check thrown by a forechecker trying to separate a defender from the puck.  

Now that the Canucks have reclaimed the division lead on December 26, can they defend it for the rest of the season? 

The newly deposed Minnesota Wild are the only team with a chance at chance at catching the Canucks, but it isn't likely to happen anytime soon. 

The Wild (20-12-5) have 45 points in 37 games but are plummeting down the standings with a horrible 3-5-2 record in their last ten games, including a 4-0 defeat in Vancouver last week.

The Canucks (22-12-2) have 46 points in 36 games. Trending in the opposite direction of the Wild, the Canucks have shaken off their lacklustre October start to charge back up the standings, going 7-2-1 in their last ten games.

The Canucks also possess a game in hand over the Wild, plus they also are winning the season series (2-1 so far) and have more regulation wins (21 to 16), so they hold all the cards if it comes down to a tiebreak situation.

The other teams in the Northwest Division aren't even in the conversation when it comes to the race for the division title. The Avalanche (19-17-1) are in 11th place in the conference, the Flames (17-15-4) are 12th and the Oilers (15-17-3) are in 13th. 

And to compound the matter, the Flames and Oilers are horrible road teams, and have been evicted from their home rinks for the next two weeks due to the World Juniors Championship being hosted in Alberta this year. 

The Canucks used balanced scoring to overwhelm the Oilers, exactly as they have been all season. 

Henrik Sedin (41 points) and Daniel Sedin (40 points) are in the top five for NHL scoring. 

Six Canucks forwards are on pace for 20-plus goal seasons. Both Sedins, Kesler and Burrows are on that list, as expected, but Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen have been unexpected additions. 

Higgins, with 10 goals and 13 assists, has been worth every penny, and then some, of the $1.9 million contract he signed as a UFA on July 1. 

Hansen has had a breakout season with 11 goals and 10 assists so far after signing a new contract of his own as an RFA. 

Making only $1.35 million per season for the next three years, the Danish winger has been turning heads around the NHL now that his hands have finally caught up to his blazing speed.  

Highly touted rookie Cody Hodgson has been making the most of his limited minutes in this deep Canucks roster, putting up seven goals and 12 assists with only 12:34 of ice time per night.  

None of the other teams in the Northwest Division, and few in the NHL overall, can boast that sort of stacked offence.

The Canucks are averaging 3.31 goals per game, good for third overall in the NHL behind the Bruins (3.52) and Flyers (3.47).  

The Canucks are first in the NHL for power-play efficiency (25.0 percent) and power play goals (35). 

On the defensive end, the Canucks are only giving up 2.39 goals per game, which isn't stellar but is still good enough for seventh overall in the NHL in that category.

Similarly, the Canucks are sixth in the NHL on the penalty kill (85.6 percent). 

A surprising statistic for those that bought into the media-driven hype that the Canucks are a soft team is that the Canucks are 10th overall in terms of hits thrown this season, with 808 hits.

They are also seventh in the NHL for fighting majors with 21 fights.  

Sure those hits weren't all highlight reel checks that leveled the other player. But the stats bear out that the Canucks are hardly the soft team they are often portrayed as. 

The Canucks also have the second-best goal differential in the West, scoring 32 more goals than they have allowed.

So can any other team in the Northwest catch the Canucks? Not a chance.


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