Canucks Review and Preview: November 21 to November 27, 2011

[Every week, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead.]

Last week, the Canucks continued their inconsistent play, which resulted in a brutal showing against the Chicago Blackhawks. Trailing by a goal going into the third period, they let the game get out of reach, eventually losing 5-1. Then, the Ottawa Senators came into town on Sunday. The game had some end-to-end rushes and excellent goaltending by Cory Schneider and ex-Canuck Alex Auld; and the Canucks came away with a 2-1 victory. Winning streaks have to start with one win, let’s hope we can string together a few more to try and better our position in the Western Conference.

Canucks Record

20 GP, 10-9-1, 21 points (3rd in Northwest Division, 11th in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Sami “Balls of Steel” Salo has been one of the Canucks’ most consistent defensemen all year long. Although he may be made out of glass, Sami has proved that he still a strong asset and that he can make things happen on both ends of the ice. Last season, Sami was limited to only 27 games last season and scored just 7 points (3G-4A); this season, he already has 11 points (4G-7A) in only 17 games this season. He is also the only plus-player among the defensive core with a plus-4 rating.

Who’s Not

Ryan Kesler had off-season hip surgery this past summer so it’s understandable that he didn’t start the new season off with a bang. I think it was fair to give him a 10-game cushion which would account for his training camp and exhibition games that he missed. But through 15 games, Kes only has 8 points and has been visibly frustrated on the ice. His even-strength play has been mediocre, to say the least, though his presence on the powerplay has been evident and is much of the reason why the Canucks have been so successful lately. He’s beginning to skate well but he just hasn’t found that finesse and confidence that makes him so successful. In his case, less is more he needs to stop holding the stick so tight and just get back to his Selke-award winning ways. I’m not worried about his play but I am anxiously awaiting his resurgence.

Who’s Next

Wednesday November 23, 2011 vs. Colorado Avalanche (6:30 PM start, away)

The Avalanche started off the 2011/2012 campaign winning 5 of their first 6 games; however, they have been struggling lately and are now sitting beneath the Canucks in the Western Conference standings, having played one more game than Vancouver.

This is the first meeting between the two teams this season. Last season, the Canucks went 5-0-1 against the Avs.

Young gun Matt Duchene has become a main staple in Colorado’s offensive charge and is currently leading his team in points with 9 goals and 7 assists. He’s put up points in 7 of his last 9 games (7 goals and 3 assists). Needless to say, it will be important for the Canucks to try and shut down Duchene, as well as noted “Canuck-killer” Milan Hejduk, who seems to be on the score sheet every time he plays against Vancouver.

Friday November 25, 2011 vs. Phoenix Coyotes (6:00 PM start, away)

The Canucks roll into Phoenix for their first match up this season against the Desert Dogs. Last season, the two clubs split their 4-game series; each team won their two games on the road with Roberto Luongo backstopping in all 4 games. Eric Belanger and Daniel Sedin led their respective teams with 5 points.

The Coyotes have points in 6 of their last 8 games and are being led by Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata; both have 15 points and a plus-rating.

The new addition of Mike Smith has paid off for the Coyotes. He has helped his team get points in 12 of the 15 games he’s started; he’s lost just 3 times in regulation.

Saturday November 26, 2011 vs. San Jose Sharks (7:00 PM start, away)

By this time, the Canucks would have gone almost a month without playing on Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada – their last HNIC game was on October 29th against the Washington Capitals. It will also be the first meeting between the Canucks and Sharks since the stanchion Kevin Bieksa eliminated the Sharks in double-overtime in the Western Conference Finals last year.

The Sharks have won both of their games against Northwest Division teams this season and have outscored them 7-2. It’s no surprise, but they are being led by their captain Joe Thornton, who has 20 points (5G-15A). While Jumbo Joe is leading the team in points, little Joe (Pavelski) is leading the team with 11 goals. San Jose is also getting great goaltending from Antti Niemi, who has gone 8-2-1 and has a 0.915 save percentage.

Déjà vu?

When the Canucks were struggling in October, the fans and media – well, at least some of them – defended the team by pointing out that they are notoriously slow starters. Everyone was hoping that November would see a more consistent team; however, we are obviously still waiting for this to happen. At the quarter mark of the season, it’s not the .500 record that is worrisome, it is the fact that the team is still having major breakdowns on the back-end, having trouble scoring goals and have yet to play the cliche, a full-60 minute game.

No need to stress Canucks Nation, I have the answer.

Last season, the Canucks went 10-7-3 in their first 20 games, but it was on game 19, when the Blackhawks embarrassed the Canucks 7-1, that things started to turn around. After that, they went 17-1-2 in their next 20 games.

Fast forward to this year. In game 19, the Blackhawks won 5-1 at Rogers Arena. Again, the Canucks struggled to score and the defence was mesmerized by the speed and skill of Marian Hossa and company. Could history repeat itself? Was the blowout loss to the Blackhawks followed by the less-than-exciting win against the Senators the turning point of the season? Can the Canucks mirror what they did last season and finally start putting together more than a win at a time?

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