Positives and Negatives from the Start of the Vancouver Canucks' 2013 Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2013

Positives and Negatives from the Start of the Vancouver Canucks' 2013 Season

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    As the Vancouver Canucks enter the fourth week of the abbreviated 2012-13 NHL season, things are looking pretty good. Since starting the year 2-2-2, they've put up a five-game winning streak and built a comfortable cushion for themselves atop the Northwest Division.

    Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Wild will bring the Canucks to the quarter pole of their season. Here's a look at the good and the bad that fans have seen so far from Vancouver.

POSITIVE: Goaltending

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    Going into this season, the biggest question the Canucks faced was how to handle their situation in net.

    Turns out that doing nothing has worked out just fine. Vancouver has climbed to sixth in the league with a goals-against average of 2.00 goals per game, and that number is still dramatically impacted by the 7-3 season-opening debacle against Anaheim. The team has surrendered just 15 goals since for an average of 1.50 in games two through 11.

    Cory Schneider turned in solid one-goal performances in his each of his last two outings to help improve his numbers and show that he's still an elite netminder. Meanwhile, among goalies with more than three games played, only Ottawa's Craig Anderson has a better goals-against average and save percentage than Roberto Luongo, who has fought his way back from the doghouse with courage, humility and great work between the pipes.

    Luongo's appearance on CBC's After Hours following the Canucks' Saturday win against Calgary provided superb insight into his positive mental attitude. The interview affirmed that from Luongo's point of view, it won't be a problem if the Canucks keep both goalies all year. Winning takes the pressure off all parties concerned.

NEGATIVE: Infirmary Report

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    The Canucks haven't suffered any on-ice injuries since the season began, but it looks like they're still not close to seeing Ryan Kesler or David Booth back in the lineup.

    While Booth and Kesler have joined their teammates for practice over the past week, both are expressing caution about the timeline for their return to the ice. Booth is a notoriously well-conditioned athlete who is not impressed that his body isn't responding well to treatment, as he told Jason Botchford of The Province:

    That’s something I’m getting frustrated about because I don’t know what’s going on...You know, the groin feels fine, but there are other areas that don’t feel the best right now. The groin itself is healing well, but there are other compensations in my body. Maybe other things have to be addressed.

    Meanwhile, Kesler's skating looks fantastic, but he's concerned about the strength in his shoulder—crucial for shooting and for stability during physical play. “I’ll be back when I’m ready,” Kesler told Botchford. “I’m doing light contact now. I’m taking baby steps.”

    Kesler was the engine that drove the Canucks through the first three rounds of their 2010-11 Stanley Cup playoff run, and the team suffered noticeably after he was injured during the Western Conference finals against San Jose. Kesler rushed back from that hip injury last season and seems determined not to make the same mistake twice.

POSITIVE: Balanced Scoring

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    Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres leads the NHL in scoring with 23 points. His linemate, ex-Canuck Cody Hodgson, sits at No. 26 overall with 12 points in 13 games.

    On the surface, this is troublesome for second-guessing Canuck fans, who wrung their hands when Hodgson was traded last season. The Canucks' top scorer so far is Daniel Sedin, who has just 10 points.

    But let's dig a little deeper. Hodgson is a minus-three for the Sabres, who currently sit 29th in the league in team defense. Buffalo is tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference with 11 points in 13 games.

    By contrast, Vancouver is third in the West with 16 points in 11 games, sixth in team defense and Hodgson's minus-three would tie him for the team worst with Manny Malhotra.

    Despite his diminutive size, Jordan Schroeder is starting to look like an upgrade from Hodgson. In nine NHL games, Schroeder has two goals, a shootout winner and is a plus-four. He has been an effective player at both ends of the ice and as Alain Vigneault's confidence in him grows, he is seeing more quality ice time, including power-play minutes.

    Schroeder has not been the only one contributing. Up front, Zack Kassian grabbed the torch early, Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen have been contributing on and off the scoresheet and Chris Higgins now appears to be getting on track. Points from the blue line have also been key, as the Canucks now have eight goals from their defense, with Keith Ballard the only member of the top six yet to score.

NEGATIVE: Special Teams

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    Special teams have been a strength for the Vancouver Canucks over the past few seasons. This year, there is still room for improvement.

    Out of a total of 22 goals against, only half have come at even strength. The Canucks have allowed one short-handed goal and 10 power-play markers. They currently rank 20th in the NHL with a dismal penalty-kill rate of 77.8 percent. They need to play better short-handed—or stop taking penalties entirely.

    Vancouver also ranks 20th with the man advantage, with a power-play conversion rate of only 17.1 percent. They have a long way to go if they want to get back to the success rate of 24.3 percent that they enjoyed in 2010-11, when they were scoring on nearly one out of every four man-advantage opportunities.

    Special teams often make the difference in NHL games. The fact that the Canucks are finding the success they have primarily at even strength means the team's game should get even stronger once the power play and penalty kill start working more like usual.

    Do you see other positives or negatives in the Canucks' performance so far? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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