After 22 games, the numbers don’t lie. The Vancouver Canucks are 14-6-2 and their 32 points are good for 1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference and 5th in the entire NHL. They are 11-3-1 against the West and 5-0-1 against the Northwest. They’ve beaten the Red Wings twice, the Flames and the Wild twice, and the Penguins and the Rangers.
Overall, the other numbers are good as well as unexpected.
The Canucks have scored 68 goals so far this season and their average of 3.09 per game is good for 9th in the NHL and is more than half a goal higher than their 2.52 average from the 2007/2008 season.
At the same time that they’re putting the puck in the net, they’re keeping it out. They’ve only allowed 50 goals so far this season and their 2.27 average is good for 3rd in the NHL; last season, they allowed 2.51 goals per game.
The weird thing is, the Canucks are doing all of this without a lot of help from their special teams – their powerplay is 17th (17.1%) in the NHL and their penalty kill is 19th (80.7%).
So what’s going on?
Mike Burnstein has been less busy.
For one thing, despite their recent rash of injuries, the Canucks have been relatively healthy. Sure they’ve lost Pavol Demitra, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa for stretches, but it was nothing compared to what they had to deal with last season. (Knock on wood.) If anything, this upcoming stretch of games – without Steve Bernier, Ryan Johnson and Roberto Luongo – may prove to be their most challenging yet.
Sharing the scoring load
Even before the PHD line – Pavol Demitra, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin – was formed against the Leafs, the Canucks were already among the league leaders in scoring. Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond all had hot starts to the season. Then it was Kevin Bieksa and Kyle Wellwood. The current hot line is the aforementioned PHD line with a combined 26 points (10G-16A) and a plus-14 rating in 6 games.
The result is a balanced scoring attack and some secondary scoring. The Sedins may still face opposing teams’ top defensemen, but when that happens, others have been able to put the puck in the net. Last season, Ryan Kesler’s 37 points were good for 4th in team scoring. This season, 10 Canucks are on pace to exceed that.
Doing the little things
On paper, it didn’t seem like GM Mike Gillis did a lot to improve the team. Besides Demitra, his other acquisitions were Kyle Wellwood, Ryan Johnson, Steve Bernier, Darcy Hordichuk, Rob Davison and Shane O’Brien. They’re not exactly household names but they all have a role and know how to play them well.
We all know what Wellwood can do with the puck, but he’s also helped the Canucks become a much better faceoff team. He’s won 56.6% of his draws (Kesler has won 53.5% and Henrik has won 53.3%) and the Canucks, as a team, has won 51.1%, 10th best in the NHL. But also, Johnson leads all Canucks forwards with 36 blocked shots (Burrows is a far second with 16), Bernier leads the team with 44 hits, O’Brien leads the team with 70 penalty minutes and Hordichuk leads the team with 6 fights.
Can the Canucks keep up this pace?
My honest answer is I don’t know. I think we’d all be lying if we said that this is precisely what we expected from this team. Regardless, there’s much to like about the Canucks’ first 22 games. They went through a torrid November stretch last season too before fading out of the playoff picture. I just hope they can keep the good games rolling this time around.