Home sweet home for Vancouver Canucks after 3 prospects earn WJC medals
The less said about Saturday's game in Toronto, the better—right?
That 5-0 loss is water under the bridge and the Canucks are now back home in Vancouver after the conclusion of the World Junior Championship. If you missed it, Canucks prospect Toni Utunen and Team Finland earned the gold-medal with a 3-2 win over Team USA on Saturday. American prospects Quinn Hughes and Tyler Madden settled for silver, while Michael DiPietro finished off the podium despite a strong performance in net for Team Canada.
The Canucks are practicing on Monday out at UBC and will have a few days to re-introduce themselves to their families and dogs before they get back into game action on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes.
The Canucks are rolling into the second half of their season with a bit of a respite. Their next six games are all at home, spread out over a luxurious 14-day span. After that, the group will get more than a week off between January 24-February 1, as their five-day rest break that's mandated by the CBA begins immediately after the All-Star Break.
Elias Pettersson will miss some more time going forward, but the hope is that it won't be too much.
Though the Canucks come home with a 3-3-0 record from the road trip, it's worrisome that they were shut out in all three losses, including the last two games—and it's four shutouts in the last seven games if you count the 1-0 loss at home to Winnipeg right before Christmas. The team's last goal was Pettersson's overtime winner in Ottawa on January 2, which completed his hat trick. Of the 11 goals that Vancouver did score on the trip, Pettersson had five of them. The other six came from Brock Boeser (2), Tyler Motte, Antoine Roussel, Alex Edler and Sven Baertschi.
As of Monday morning, the Canucks remain one point behind the Anaheim Ducks, who currently hold the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. But Vancouver is just one point ahead of both the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers—and both those teams have played fewer games. Also, the struggling Ducks are looking like the only catchable team right now—above them, Dallas is four points up on Vancouver in the first wild-card, with two games in hand, and the San Jose Sharks are sitting third in the Pacific with a nine-point lead over Vancouver, also with two games in hand.
In terms of team stats, Vancouver remains 23rd overall in total points percentage (.489) and is 20th in goals per game (2.82), 22nd in goals against per game (3.13), 20th on the power play (17.6 percent), 22nd on the penalty kill (78.0 percent), 26th in shots per game (28.8), 20th in shots against per game (30.9) and 27th on faceoffs (47.9 percent). There isn't one metric that the Canucks can point to as a strength, where they're in the top half of the league. Yes, there was improvement in December, especially in the defensive side of their game. But the way things have started in January, it's not really clear if December was an indicator of real progress, or just a course-correction after a dismal and unlucky month of November.
Before he was hurt, Pettersson had been playing his best hockey yet, delivering highlight-reel plays in nearly every game. But all that excitement helped mask the fact that some other players' production has hit a mid-season wall.
Brock Boeser has 17 points in 19 games since rejoining the lineup on November 27 after taking that time off to let his groin injury heal, but has just two assists in his last four games. Alex Edler has been excellent. Fourteen of his 19 points have come in the 20 games since he returned from injury on November 24, including three assists last week in Ottawa. He has averaged a team-leading 23:39 per game and is a plus-6 over that stretch, behind only Chris Tanev on the back end (plus-8).
Sven Baertschi has also been producing well on the power play since getting back into action but hasn't produced at five-on-five. In five games, he has a goal and two assists, all collected during man-advantage situations.
After clipping along at nearly a point-a-game for most of the year, Bo Horvat has just two assists in his last seven games. He's still on pace for career bests of 31 goals and 66 points this year, but I wonder if he's showing some signs of fatigue due to the heavy workload he took on while Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle were sidelined?
Of course, with Pettersson out, there's still a hole at centre for the next little while, but hopefully some extra rest time over the next few weeks will give Horvat a chance to re-charge his batteries and prepare for the stretch run.
February gets busy again, with nine road games and five home games, and includes three back-to-backs (Hi, Thatcher Demko!)
Jim Benning and company will need to make some big decisions about the future expectations for the team before the February 25 trade deadline, but an optimistic could be persuaded that the team will have a chance to make a move up the standings in March. They'll be busy, with 14 games in 27 days between March 3rd and 30th, and another three sets of back-to-backs. But just four of those games will be played on the road, none further away than Chicago. The two games against Dallas and one against Anaheim could be crucial.
The regular-season schedule wraps up with three games in April: at home to San Jose, then on the road against Nashville and St. Louis.
While we wait for Petey to return, we can watch this feature interview with Nick Kypreos, which includes some content that was not included in the version that was broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday.
Jay Beagle also got the long-form treatment while he was in Toronto, guesting with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on the 31 Thoughts podcast.