Vancouver Canucks are a team people should start believing in
Well, if you didn’t believe before, you should start believing now. This Vancouver Canucks team is serious. They are here to play.
Vancouver Canucks are for real
The team stepped up and outbattled the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. The third period was tied 2-2 until defenseman Troy Stecher broke open the floodgates with about fifteen minutes left to play. Vancouver captain Bo Horvat tallied his second of the game just a few minutes later, and J.T. Miller added the exclamation point with a no-mistake one timer on the powerplay as the game came to a close.
The Canucks entered the quarterfinals riding off of three straight wins over the Minnesota Wild, after dropping the first game in the best-of-five series. Vancouver is now in a position to put the #4 seeded Blues on their heels if they can deliver another strong effort in Game 2.
After all, St. Louis has not looked like the league-leading 94-point-team they were before the pause, having failed to secure a victory in the round robin. Counting the game one loss, the Blues have gone 0-4 since the restart.
Breaking Down the Vancouver Canucks
Let’s take a moment to break that down. Restart… round robin… pause… best-of-five. What’s clear is this year’s fight for the Cup is truly one of a kind – no fans, no home ice, no way to ride momentum generated from the regular season that almost feels like last season at this point.
What this means is teams can only build on their experiences starting Aug. 1, when this tournament style of play began.
We’ve seen potential Stanley Cup contenders in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers eliminated by teams no one expected to even sniff the playoffs in the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks, respectively.
We’ve seen games postponed due to others requiring as many as five overtime periods to be decided, leaving an insufficient amount of time for the facility to be properly sanitized before the start of the next game. Heck, we’ve even seen the lights go out in one game.
The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are full of oddities, but one thing remains certain. This year’s champions will emerge as a result of playing disciplined hockey and heating up at the right time. After last night’s victory, here are some thoughts about the Canucks moving forward.
Canuck’s top 6 are solid
On paper, the Canucks are not yet a championship caliber team. In the eyes of many, this is a young, talented group that is a couple of key pieces away from seriously contending.
The addition of J.T. Miller on Elias Pettersson’s wing has proven to be a genius decision, as Miller has completely hit his stride and found the best system for himself as a player. He showed promise with the Rangers but they were working towards rebuilding as Miller was poised to hit his prime years.
He was not a good fit in Tampa Bay, but he sure has blossomed on Vancouver’s top line. That trio, with Boeser on the other wing, is among the league’s most lethal on attack.
Vancouver’s top six features a solid mix of young studs, like Pettersson and Brock Boeser, and experienced veterans, such as Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson and Loui Eriksson. Their top two lines are well-balanced and can go toe-to-toe with anyone.
As playoff hockey generally goes, though, it will be up to the third and fourth line guys to push the needle Vancouver’s way, since it is possible the first and second lines may be neutralized by other teams’ best in tight games.
This could be a problem for the Canucks, whose top-six is responsible for 13 of 17 goals since the restart.
Need more from the bottom six
Vancouver’s bottom six has struggled at points this season and the defense, despite having a star in Quinn Hughes, could be exposed by offensive powerhouses like the Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights or any of the top four teams in the East (if it comes to that).
For this reason, the third and fourth lines are going to be critical down the stretch. It’s not like they don’t have pieces, though.
Brandon Sutter has been effective since the restart, notching a big goal in Game 4 against the Wild when they were down 3-1. Antoine Roussel grabbed an assist on that goal and he scored in Game 3. 4th line center Jay Beagle knows what it takes to win, a 2018 Stanley Cup champion with the Washington Capitals.
The bottom-six can be impactful in each game if they play with the puck, neutralize the game, draw penalties and let the top guns go to work. If they can execute in doing that, and continue to produce here and there, they could be a difference maker.
Power Play has to remain sharp
The Canucks power play ranks 4th among teams who have played five games since the restart with a power play percentage of 28%. The power play has been one of the team’s strengths all season (they also were ranked fourth at 24.2%).
Vancouver’s power play looked its best since the restart last night, converting three of five times with the man advantage.
Rookie phenom, Quinn Hughes continued to impress as he assisted on both power play goals. All season long, Hughes has shown signs of stardom in this league. He has demonstrated comfortability in handling the quarterback role of the operation. He will be stationed on the point, using his elite vision to create opportunities for his teammates on special teams, for years to come.
“The chemistry just continues to grow,” Hughes said in an article with The Vancouver Sun. We’re at a point where we all have our one, two or three plays and guys can react to what is going to happen. Guys are hungry to score and we’ve been dialled in.”
If Vancouver can continue to find ways to draw penalties and continue to capitalize on their opportunities, it could help propel them into the contender discussion.
Jacob Markstrom is the guy
Despite how talented the team is up front, Jacob Markstrom is going to need to perform at the highest level if the team has hopes of advancing – Vancouver is not defensively sound enough to be able to bail him out of soft goals.
We saw this last week during his poor performance vs. Minnesota in Game 4. The Canucks found themselves on the brink of an elimination game had Christopher Tanev not punched their ticket to the quarterfinals in overtime.
The good news is, if the 30-year-old Swedish netminder plays at all the way he did last night, the Canucks should be in good shape.
Markstrom allowed two goals in last night’s victory, the first a quality snapshot from David Perron and the second a breakaway finish from Jaden Schwartz.
He came up big several times when Vancouver needed him most, including this dazzling kick save as the Blues hounded the net in search of a goal with Binnington on the bench.
Make no doubt about it, Markstrom is absolutely their guy. He was voted Team MVP for a second consecutive season. Since 2015, Markstrom has put up a save percentage of .910 or better. Since the restart, Markstrom has performed very well. He is 4-1 and has posted a goals against average of 2.21 and a save percentage of 9.28.
The Canucks will lean on Markstrom in some games, and his level of play will largely dictate their faith.
House money hockey team
Remember, the Canucks were never supposed to win this year. They weren’t supposed to be ready. But this is a fluke year and counting anyone out at this point is illogical.
The Stanley Cup champion will be a team that is playing with seamless chemistry at the right time. There is no reason why the Canucks can’t be that team the way they are currently positioned. But everybody needs to execute and do their job if they have any shot at making a run for it all.