Realignment Biggest Factor in Canucks Woes
Despite winning their last two games, Vancouver’s season has found itself under the microscope recently.
A 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday made for an unhappy return to New York for Head Coach John Tortorella, and left the Canucks with a 4-5-4 record through November.
Whilst far from being in some kind of free fall; the British Columbia outfit find themselves outside of the play-offs and their new life in the Pacific has provided a whole new series of challenges for the franchise.
The clubs summer was dominated by speculation on how the team would adapt to life under John Tortorella, and whether or not the former Rangers Coach could work with pending UFAs Henrik and Daniel Sedins.
Despite a short ‘feeling out period’, both twins signed 4 year contract extensions worth $28m a piece and currently lead the team in scoring (again); with Henrik registering 7 goals and 28 points and Daniel 10 goals and 26 points through the Canucks first 30 games.
Ryan Kesler also looks something like his old self, scoring 14 goals and remaining healthy whilst playing 22 minutes per night, whilst Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack have provided solid goaltending for the most part.
But the Canucks still find themselves chasing, rather than leading, in the play-off race.
Vancouver is currently 1 points behind Phoenix in the Pacific Division; a point shy of a wild card spot and 5 adrift of 3rd placed Los Angeles.
The Canucks opening to the new season was seen as something of a polar opposite to the start Toronto enjoyed in the East. While the Leafs were frequently outshot, they kept winning and maintained an unusually high shoot percentage through the first few weeks of the season.
Vancouver on the other hand could have been described as ‘the better team’ in a number of their games, but still find themselves with a 15-10-5 record, and are barely better than .500 on home ice, as they try to chase down the Coyotes.
Vancouver’s ‘bad luck’ can perhaps be summed up by their calamitous own goal against Montreal in October, but the long and the short of it, as the saying goes, is that the Nucks just haven’t had the bounces early on.
In the same way Toronto’s ‘luck’ seems to have run out, you’d expect things to pick up for Vancouver. They begin a 5 game home stand on Friday against Phoenix and there is still an awful lot of hockey to be played.
One major thing has changed for Vancouver this season though – something that was almost seemed forgotten over the summer, as the club navigated the seas of (coaching) change and less than favourable post season post-mortems after being demolished by San Jose, they’re in the Pacific Division now.
I know I’ve mentioned their new home already in this post, but the gravity of that change cannot be underestimated. Vancouver, perhaps more than any club, has been hit by realignment. Forget Detroit and Columbus going East, or Winnipeg moving West – Vancouver is in at the deep end now.
Whilst the travel schedule maybe a bit easier for the Canucks, they now share a Division with San Jose, Anaheim, LA and Phoenix. It is a veritable lions den in the Pacific, and in the West.
It’s a very different prospect to that which the team has faced over the last few seasons, where they could have essentially sent the Green Men out to play and still won the Northwest Division.
The Flames, Oilers and Avs were flat out bad, and whilst the Wild were building some momentum they were far from contenders. The Canucks ruled the Divisional roost. Five straight Division titles provide a nice footnote, but all attention was based on competing for a Cup.
Now, they might be lucky to even make the play-offs…