Perplexing but producing, Canucks exceeding expectations

 

 
 
 
 
Radim Vrbata of the Vancouver Canucks scores the game-winner as goalie Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers looks on during the shootout on February 19, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Canucks defeated the Rangers 5-4 in an overtime shootout.
 

Radim Vrbata of the Vancouver Canucks scores the game-winner as goalie Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers looks on during the shootout on February 19, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Canucks defeated the Rangers 5-4 in an overtime shootout.

Photograph by: Elsa, Getty Images

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VANCOUVER – Admit it, these Vancouver Canucks have raised your eyebrows as they sit second in the Pacific Division, ahead of both the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and another California nemesis, the San Jose Sharks.

They have won games in Anaheim, L.A. and San Jose this season, not to mention in St. Louis, Chicago, Boston and both New Yorks. They have more road wins – 22 – than any other team in the Pacific Division. Their 38 regulation and overtime victories, the first tie-breaker to determine playoff positioning, is tied for best in the Western Conference.

Okay. Maybe they are not so hot on home ice. They have been shut out five times at Rogers Arena and lost by four or more goals at home on seven different occasions. And don’t even mention faceoffs, where the Canucks were ranked third worst in the league (47.2 per cent) prior to Monday’s slate of seven games.

So there are warts on this team but there are warts on every team. Anybody can be negative. Today, as the Canucks gear up for a Tuesday visit from the surging Winnipeg Jets, we’re going to be positive and give you five reasons why the Canucks are where they are:

ONE – COACH WILLIE KEEPS HIS PROMISE

Rookie head coach Willie Desjardins pledged to use all four of his lines this season but coaches, managers and even players say all kinds of things that suit their purposes at the time. As soon as adversity strikes, out goes the promise.

“Four lines!” was Desjardins’s vow and, somehow, he has lived up to it. The top players aren’t worn to a frazzle. Fourth liners, thanks in part to the emergence of 19-year-old Bo Horvat as the fourth-line centre, play in the third period of close games, whether the Canucks are ahead by a goal, or behind. An amazing concept.

TWO – DEPTH PERCEPTION

When the injury crisis hit, and hit hard in mid-February, they were predictions of immediate doom. At one point, the Canucks were missing four defencemen, including three of their top four. They were missing No. 2 and No. 3 centres Nick Bonino and Brad Richardson. Then both Alex Burrows and No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller went down in consecutive games on the same Eastern road trip.

Somehow the Canucks managed to beat the Wild, the Rangers, the Islanders, the Bruins and the Blues during this stretch with a patchwork lineup that featured Yannick Weber on the first defensive pairing, 26-year-old rookie Alex Biega on the second and Adam Clendening and Ryan Stanton on the third. It could have been Red Cross for the blueline. Instead, it was green light to victory.

THREE – EDDIE NOT LACKING

Although Ryan Miller did have some weak moments, he also provided the Canucks with a Vezina Trophy presence between the pipes -- 28 victories in 44 decisions and six shutouts -- before his Feb. 22 knee injury in Long Island. This left the goaltending to sophomore Eddie Lack, who struggled mightily last season in the No. 1 role after Roberto Luongo was dealt away March 4.

But that team was already in a ridiculous freefall and Lack himself was fighting a back injury. There are no comparison between this year and last. Lack is 7-3-1 in 11 decisions since the Miller injury. As well, he shared a shutout with Miller in a 4-0 victory over the Isles. Now that’s proving your net worth.

FOUR – RADIM THE DREAM

At 33, Radim Vrbata is proving age is just a number, perhaps even a number he can reach in goals with a stupendous finish. Right now, the Canucks will take his 27 goals, his six game-winners, his 53 points, his two-point efforts in the weekend wins over L.A. and Arizona. He has more than replaced the departed Ryan Kesler’s goal production and role on the first-unit power play — and without any of the drama. Vrbata has truly Czech-ed in.

FIVE – A TWIN RESURGENCE

After the 2013-14 debacle under John Tortorella, questions about Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s ability to lead this team offensively were justified. Like totally, man. Both twins were injured for parts of last season, their bodies were seemingly breaking down, their production was definitely down and their age was up. At 34, they weren’t getting any faster either.

But the twins have bounced back in marvelllous fashion. They are the only two Canucks to play in every game this season. They are once again are 1-2 in team scoring. At 64 points, Daniel was tied for 14th in league scoring Monday, just 10 behind leader Sidney Crosby. He was tied for fourth in assists with 48 while Henrik was tied for sixth with 46.

Daniel is already 17 points ahead of his 2013-14 total. Even better, Henrik ran – or at least ran into -- Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick on Saturday, showing his inner Dustin Brown. The twins are back, and so are the Canucks.

Epap@vancouversun.com

 
 
 
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Radim Vrbata of the Vancouver Canucks scores the game-winner as goalie Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers looks on during the shootout on February 19, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Canucks defeated the Rangers 5-4 in an overtime shootout.
 

Radim Vrbata of the Vancouver Canucks scores the game-winner as goalie Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers looks on during the shootout on February 19, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Canucks defeated the Rangers 5-4 in an overtime shootout.

Photograph by: Elsa, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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