VANCOUVER - As the first team to reach the National Hockey League quarter-pole, the Vancouver Canucks were rewarded with a pit stop.
Coach John Tortorella gave his troops what is an NHL rarity — two straight days off on Monday and Tuesday — after a less-than-stellar tour through the meat of the Pacific Division.
Having completed a rather arduous stretch that saw them play 13 of their first 20 games on the road while adjusting to a more aggressive system introduced by Tortorella, the players could undoubtedly use the rest.
They may have also used some of that time off to contemplate their position in the standings.
All things considered, the Canucks can’t be too disappointed about their 11-7-2 record. But in the NHL’s Wild West, that record only has the Canucks in the middle of the pack and fighting for a playoff position.
They entered play Tuesday night fourth in their division and in eighth spot in the Western Conference.
If they needed a reminder that those halcyon days of beating up on their old Northwest Division opponents are ancient history, the first 20 games have certainly done that.
The Canucks can, at least, put away their suitcases for a while. Thursday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena begins a stretch that sees Vancouver play 11 of its next 15 games at home.
But before we look ahead, let’s look back at some of the surprises, disappointments and other noteworthy developments of the first TWIN TOWERS
They played together, they played apart, they played with Ryan Kesler, they killed penalties, they blocked shots. Daniel and Henri Sedin also played monster minutes. Only two NHL players — Kesler and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby — have averaged more ice time per game than the Sedins this season.
Daniel and Henrik, for the most part, seemed to thrive with the increased workload. Both had positive starts and Henrik registered a 12-game points streak. But is all the ice time catching up to them? Henrik and Daniel have failed to register a point in their last three games.
This is easy. Centre Mike Santorelli signed a two-way contract with the Canucks this past summer and many in the organization thought he’d start the season in Utica. Instead, Santorelli has found himself playing on Vancouver’s second line and has given coach John Tortorella the option to use Ryan Kesler on the wing with the Sedins. Two of Santorelli’s five goals have been game-winners and he leads the team with a faceoff percentage of 56.7 per cent.
Centre Brad Richardson and defenceman Ryan Stanton have also been pleasant surprises for the Canucks. Richardson, who signed with Vancouver after sitting out much of last season as a healthy scratch with the Los Angeles Kings, has stepped in and handled the third-line centre position. He has also been a key penalty-killer and leads the Canucks with two shorthanded goals.
Stanton, who was plucked off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks, has settled in nicely as Vancouver’s No. 6 defenceman. He adds some toughness to the defence and has also contributed offensively with one goal and seven points.
Here’s a hint: He has been playing in Utica ... Yes, David Booth continues to under-achieve with the Canucks. At least he was before he was shipped to Utica for a two-week conditioning stint with the AHL’s Comets. Booth, who was recalled by the Canucks on Tuesday, can’t seem to stay healthy and when he is fails to contribute. He has just one goal and three points in 11 games with the Canucks this season. At least he hasn’t been a defensive liability. Booth hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against this season.
The Canucks have managed to win despite a power-play that has struggled all season. Chances are that won’t continue and it’s imperative that the Canucks start to make teams pay for taking penalties. Vancouver’s power play has clicked on only 9.7 per cent of its chances this season and was tied for 27th heading into Tuesday night’s play. For comparison’s sake, the Canucks led the league with a gaudy power-play efficiency rate of 24.3 per cent in 2010-11 when they went to the Stanley Cup final.
The Canucks have managed to weather a tough stretch with their power play in large part because their penalty-kill has been the league’s best. The Canucks have killed 89.4 per cent of opposition power plays and will enter Thursday night’s game against San Jose having killed 23 straight penalties. They last allowed a power-play goal on Oct. 25 in St. Louis.
BURR NOT BACK IN SADDLE
Winger Alex Burrows missed 12 games after suffering a fractured foot while blocking a shot in the season-opener. Since returning, Burrows has struggled to find his goal-scoring touch. In eight games this season, Burrows has just two assists and he’s missed converting on some blue-chip scoring opportunities. The Canucks need his production going forward.
Apparently the Canucks have a second set of twins. Goaltenders Roberto Luongo and rookie back-up Eddie Lack reached the quarter-pole with identical stats. Both have .911 save percentages and each sports a goal-against average of 2.41.
The Canucks have to be satisfied with their goaltending. Traditionally a slow starter, Luongo has compiled a 9-5-2 record. If only he could stop the first shot. . .
Lack, meanwhile, has played well in his four starts and shown no signs of rust after missing most of last season with a hip injury that required surgery.
Hands up everyone who thought Ryan Stanton and Chris Tanev would have more points than Alex Edler. Stanton and Tanev each have seven points this season, while Edler has just six ... Only Alex Ovechkin (94) and Zach Parise (79) have more shots than the 75 Ryan Kesler has put on net this season ... The Canucks have a winning record, but have given up the same number of goals (54) that they have scored this season.
Canucks report card
Henrik Sedin: A
Despite tough road trip, Canuck captain has had a solid start to season.
Mike Santorelli: A
Over-achieved in first quarter. Canucks hope it continues.
Daniel Sedin: B
Seems to have found scoring touch that went missing late last season.
Ryan Kesler: B
Leads team with nine goals after playing much of opening stretch on the wing.
Chris Higgins: B
Continues to work his tail off every night. Starting to have some puck luck.
Brad Richardson: B
Another over-achiever who has been great on penalty-kill and chipped in offensively.
Zack Kassian: C
Continues to show flashes, but needs to become much more consistent.
Jeremy Welsh: C
Has not looked out of place in limited minutes as fourth-line centre.
Alex Burrows: C-minus
Struggling to find scoring touch after early injury. No goals in eight games.
Tom Sestito: C-minus
Physical presence who has yet to prove he can consistently handle more than the six minutes a night he’s getting.
Zac Dalpe: C-minus
Hasn’t been the player the Canucks hoped for when they traded for him. Utica-bound once injured players return.
David Booth: D
Canucks are hoping a recent three-game stint in Utica will kick-start struggling winger.
Kevin Bieksa: B
Loves John Tortorella’s attacking system, but can occasionally get caught up ice. Leads team with a plus-9 rating.
Chris Tanev: B
Quietly averaging more than 19 minutes a night and chipping in some points.
Ryan Stanton: B
Waiver pickup has looked right at home as Vancouver’s sixth defenceman.
Alex Edler: B
Off to a slow start offensively, but seems more aggressive and involved in games. Averaging a team-high 24:29 a night.
Dan Hamhuis: C-plus
Recovering from a slow start and recently promoted to first-unit power-play duty.
Jason Garrison: C-plus
Lost his spot on first-unit power play and after a fast start has no points in his last 10 games.
Roberto Luongo: B
Still hasn’t quite found his ‘A’ game, but is off to one of his better starts as a Canuck.
Eddie Lack: B
Early play has silenced doubters who wondered whether he was ready for NHL.
Andrew Alberts, Yannick Webber and injured players Jannik Hansen, Dale Weise and Jordan Schroeder.
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