I know it surprises quite a few people that Chris Higgins is as productive as he is considering how terrible his time spent in Calgary, Florida and New York was, but to be fair, those teams were all awful to begin with. Florida is only now on the verge of the playoffs. The Rangers are an Eastern powerhouse now but they were once a group of overpaid, over-aged and underachieving veterans. The Flames…well, the Flames haven’t changed, I guess.
But anyone who watched Higgins in his first three seasons in Montreal could tell you how much of an impact player he was. There was talk amongst Habs fans that he could be their future captain and it wasn’t hard to see why, putting up 38-points in his first two years and 52 in his third. Combine those Cody Hodgson or Mason Raymond (quite similar to MayRay actually…since his 4th year was terrible) numbers with his physical play and never quit work ethic and you have a pretty complete player. Not top end talent but a guy with character you could use on your team. The Canucks have given Higgins the opportunity to win and he’s run with it. We’re getting the guy New York thought they were getting in the Scott Gomez trade.
Want an example of that work ethic? You don’t get a washboard like that sitting on your ass.
[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]
As the Vancouver Canucks embark on the last week of the regular season, it’s quite remarkable that they are in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy after their rocky start to March. While they stare down the New York Rangers, I look at a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:
1. The Canucks could possibly play the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in the playoffs again. Even with only five days left in the NHL regular season, the final placing of all eight Western Conference playoff teams is still uncertain. The Canucks and St. Louis Blues are still battling for the top spot in the conference; the Detroit Red Wings, Predators and Blackhawks are sorting out fourth through sixth; and there are still four teams, the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks, trying to win the Pacific Division (and hence the attractive third seed) and final two playoff spots.
Depending on how things shake out, there’s a chance (albeit small) that the Canucks could face the same three teams in the playoffs that they did in 2011 – the Blackhawks, Predators and Sharks – but in reverse order! Obviously, the stars have to align just right for this to happen, but it’s not inconceivable. The Canucks could meet the Sharks in the first round. Then, a match-up with the Predators is plausible (especially if the Canucks finish first and the Preds win their first-round series as the fourth or fifth seed). Given this scenario, however, if the Blackhawks (likely to finish sixth) beat the third-seed Pacific Division winner, then the Canucks would face them in the second round (if the Canucks finish first). There are so many possible permutations and combinations that it’s almost fruitless to try and predict the first-round match-ups right now. But it sure would be something if the Canucks had to face the same three teams they eliminated last year on the way to the Finals. And then there’s the possibility of a Stanley Cup rematch. But let’s get out of the first round to start.
2. Chris Higgins has played himself onto the third line in a good way. Despite showing some great chemistry with fellow Americans Ryan Kesler and David Booth back in November, Chris Higgins seems destined to start the playoffs on the third line with Samme Pahlsson and Jannik Hansen. This so-called “checking line” has been playing very well and has Alain Vigneault’s utmost confidence right now. As one of the Canucks hardest-working and most effective forwards, Higgins usually moves up and down the line-up as AV sees fit. With Daniel Sedin out with a concussion, Max Lapierre has played the last couple of games with Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows, with Mason Raymond playing with the two Americans on the second line. With all signs pointing to Daniel returning for the playoffs, don’t expect Higgins anywhere else but the third line. With Higgins there, the line has potential to score – something the third line of last year’s playoff run did a bit but not too much of.
3. A new way to enjoy the national anthems. As of today, I’ve launched a new Twitter initiative with respect to the national anthems at Canucks games. I enjoy music and I enjoy hockey (as evidenced in my Clay’s Canucks Commentaries), so I’m going to be rating the national anthems at games that I witness live. My latest Clay’s Canucks Commentary explains it well so check it out:
Thanks again for reading. It’s going to be an interesting week to say the least. Where will the Canucks finish? Who will their first-round opponent be? And will Daniel Sedin and Keith Ballard be ready for the playoffs? So many Things That Make You Go Hmmm!
[Every week, Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]
With a season-high 6-game win streak, including consecutive shutouts against the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche last week, the Canucks have obviously turned the corner. They also finished last week with a decisive 5-2 win against the Dallas Stars and an OT win against the Calgary Flames, in which Andrew Ebbett returned from injury and scored the game-winning goal in OT, and overtook the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Western Conference.
The Canucks will finish their regular season this week against three teams that are out of the playoff race: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
79 GP, 49-21-9, 107 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference)
Tuesday, April 2, 2012 vs. Anaheim Ducks (7:00 PM start, home)
Will tonight mark Teemu Selanne’s last time visit to Vancouver? We’re still not sure. At 41, he could very well retire; but as the Ducks’ leading scorer (26G-39A-65P), he has proven that he could still be a force in this league. A well-respected, shoe-in Hall-of-Famer, many Ducks – many hockey fans – are hoping he’d come back and play one more year.
The Ducks have won 2 of the previous 3 meetings against the Canucks. In the season series, Bobby Ryan leads the Ducks with 4 points (2G-2A); Kevin Bieksa leads the Canucks with 4 points as well (1G-3A).
Even with the talent that the Ducks have on their roster, their play this year has been surprisingly inconsistent. They’ve lost 3 of their last 4 games.
Thursday, April 5, 2012 vs. Calgary Flames (6:00 PM start, away)
With their win on Saturday night, the Canucks eliminated the Calgary Flames from playoff contention, and have now won 3 of their 5 meetings this season. They’ve outscored the Flames by a combined score of 16-10 in those 5 games.
Jarome Iginla has 3 assists against the Canucks this season. Meanwhile, Alex Edler leads all Canucks skaters with 6 points (1G-5A) against the Flames.
Olli Jokinen has had a solid season this year. With 23 goals and 28 assists, he is having his best season, statistically, since the 2007-2008 campaign.
Saturday, April 7, 2012 vs. Edmonton Oilers (7:00 PM start, home)
The Oilers have lost 3 of their last 4 games and sit in 14th place in the Western Conference and 29th place in the entire NHL.
The Canucks have won 4 of their 5 previous meetings against the Oilers this season. In their season series, Jordan Eberle leads the Oilers with 6 points (2G-4A) while Alex Burrows leads the Canucks with 7 points (3G-4A).
As bad as this season has gone for Edmonton, Jordan Eberle has had a sensational year. In just his second NHL season, he leads the team in goals (33), assists (42) and points (75).
The Oilers will be without Taylor Hall – he is done for the season due to shoulder surgery.
Chris Higgins has been one of the most, if not the most, consistent Canuck this season. With 4 goals in his last 5 games, he now has 42 points for the season (17G-25A), which would mark his best offensive season since his 2007-2008 season in Montreal (27G-25A-56P).
Higgy leads by example on the ice and makes his linemates better. Recently, he’s found some chemistry on the 3rd line with Samme Pahlsson and Jannik Hansen, and that line has proved to be able to make some big plays on both ends of the ice.
With Daniel Sedin out with a concussion, AV decided to give Max Lapierre a shot on the “1st line” with Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows. At first glance, this seemed like a confusing decision, but much like when he originally put Burrows on the Sedins’ line, AV’s logic worked and the move has sparked Lapierre’s play.
After not recording a point in 15 games, Lappy is on a 2-game point streak and has scored 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 4 games. It’s nice to see him take advantage of his opportunity and increase in ice time.
[Every week, Caylie King previews the Canucks week that was and reviews the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]
The Canucks have lost 3 of their last 4 games and 5 of their last 7 games. Last Tuesday, potential first-round opponent Dallas Stars came into Rogers Arena and easily took two points away from the Canucks in a 5-2 win. On Thursday, the Canucks played one of their better games in a few weeks won an exciting 3-2 affair against the Winnipeg Jets. And then on Saturday, the Canucks started off well enough against the Habs before collapsing completely in the third period and losing 4-1.
69 GP, 42-19-8, 92 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)
Chris Higgins seems to have gotten over his battles with staph infections and has easily been one of the Canucks’ best and most consistent players in the last few weeks. He has 7 points (2G-5A) in his last 7 games and has been noticeable in every game. His hard forecheck and never-give-up attitude gives opposing teams a lot to handle. His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last week, coach Alain Vigneault reunited him with Ryan Kesler and David Booth, and he’s rejuvenated that line.
The real question is, who hasn’t struggled recently?
Henrik Sedin has 0 points in his last 8 games and is a minus-3 in that stretch. Daniel Sedin has 1 assist in his last 8 games and is also a minus-3 in that stretch. The Sedins have been largely invisible, and while they seem to produce the odd good shift, they haven’t been nearly as consistent and are clearly struggling to find the back of the net.
Among the forwards, Alex Burrows has 1 goal in his last 11 games, Mason Raymond is goalless in 6 games, Jannik Hansen is goalless in 12 games, and Max Lapierre is pointless in 9 games.
In the back end, Alex Edler may have 2 goals in his last 3 games, but he’s really struggled on the defensive side of things. Against the Habs, he was running around and couldn’t settle down defensively. His play has considerably declined since the All-Star break and his mistakes on the ice have become evident and visible.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 vs. Phoenix Coyotes (7:00 PM start, home)
After posting a 10-0-1 record for the month of February, the Phoenix Coyotes have struggled in the month of March with just 1 win in 7 games (1-4-2). That said, they’re still holding on to the 7th place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and if the playoffs started today, they would face the Canucks in the first round.
This will be the fourth and last meeting of the regular season between the two clubs with the Canucks having won 2 of the first 3 meetings. In the season series, Keith Yandle leads the Coyotes with 2 points (1G-1A) and Ryan Kesler leads the Canucks with 3 points (1G-2A).
The Canucks have a 7-3-4 record against Pacific division opponents.
Radim Vrbata is tied for second in team scoring with 56 points (30G-26A) and has a team-best, plus-24 rating. He’s already set a career-high in goals and has tied his career best in points. He also leads the NHL with 10 game-winning goals for the season. However, like the rest of the Coyotes, he’s been cold recently and only has 1 assist in his last 5 games.
Saturday, March 17, 2012 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7:00 PM start, home)
Considering the Blue Jackets are in last place in the Western Conference, this could be a good game for the Canucks to get 2 points and regain some traction.
This is the two teams’ last meeting of the season with the Canucks holding a 2-0-1 record against the Blue Jackets in their first 3 games against each other. Cory Schneider was in net for both Canucks wins; Roberto Luongo recorded the shootout loss.
Rick Nash leads the Blue Jackets in goals (24) and points (47) for the season.