Raymond Kirk: With The Canucks Health Improving, Can The Team Make a Playoff Run?

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The 2013 NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and like it or not, Canuck fans now know exactly what the Vancouver Canucks look like as they head into the final quarter of the Regular Season and Playoffs.

GM Mike Gillis was able to make one trade the day before the deadline, acquiring skilled centre Derek Roy from the Dallas Stars, with prospect Defenseman Kevin Connauton. Considering the cost of a rental player at the deadline this season, I feel it was a more than fair price to pay to address a need that could be considered critical if the Canucks are to make any sort of long run in the postseason this year.  It’s no secret that an effective, consistent centre for the second and third line in the wake of injuries to Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra has virtually been nonexistent. Rookie Jordan Schroeder has had a decent beginning to his NHL rookie season, but has not been consistent game in and game out. Max Lapierre has been “OK” yet still takes the mind numbing penalty every second or third game that just makes you shake your head, and is not an offensive catalyst to say the least, and is best served in a 4th line capacity. And although Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins have done an admirable job in attempting to Center a second line at times, it is not the natural position for either player and has created holes all throughout the line-up that have led the once high-octane Canucks offense to become a check like crazy and hope to score two goals a game team that has brought comparisons to the dreadful style of hockey that Jacques Lemaire’s Minnesota Wild used to play. Tolerable, as long as you are winning, but brutal to watch when your goalie or defence has an off night, as has been the case in the last two losses to the youthful, exciting to watch Edmonton Oilers and the physical well-coached San Jose Sharks.

With Derek Roy making his Canucks debut against the Oilers, Zack Kassian returning from his surprise “wake up call” conditioning stint with the Chicago Wolves, and Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Dale Weise and Keith Ballard all appearing to be close to returning from short and long term injuries, the Canucks are almost as close as they have been all season to being ‘healthy’ for the stretch drive and a battle with the much improved Minnesota Wild for the NW title.  And lest we forget the Oilers, who have found confidence to go along with their undeniable youth and talent, now sit only five points back in the chase for the NW, with all three teams having twelve games left in their schedule. It made last night’s matchup with Edmonton even more important, as the Canucks needed to find a way to stop a short two game slide and do what they can to keep the Oilers at bay, if not for division title purposes, then at least for playoff seeding. With the return of the injured bodies, I firmly believe that we will see a return of the offense that has been in hibernation since the second Kesler injury.

As glum as it has appeared at times for Vancouver this season, it is worth keeping in mind that only Chicago, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Montreal and Boston have more points. Granted, Vancouver is stuck in a pack of several other teams either tied or right behind them for overall points this season, but considering this club has virtually played all season with only one legitimate offensive center, a “goalie controversy” that will now not be addressed at least until the summer. The fact that the Canucks are still in the race for another division crown and are getting healthy at the right time, should bode well for this team’s chances of locking up home ice for the only season that matters…the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I still firmly believe that it is much more important to be playing your best hockey and important games late in the season, and this club has not really had to play important games down the homestretch the last couple of years.

Sure, there are many reasons to be discouraged by the play of the two-time defending Presidents Trophy winning club, but in the end those teams did not end up winning the ultimate prize. This team needs much to go right over the next month (and hopefully beyond) to make some serious noise. Just like the LA Kings did last season, and the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings did before them. The key is getting to the dance in the first place and we’ll have the answers to these questions soon enough.

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

Raymond Kirk: Canucks are lacking desperation in their game.

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Today marks the midway point through the 2013 Vancouver Canucks season, and this club finds itself in a situation that they and their fan base is not accustomed to over the last several years, in that they have won less than half of their games played.

Thanks to the benefit of the loser point and a weak Northwest Division, the Canucks have held the division lead up until tonight’s loss to Minnesota. The division lead of course means a the difference bewteen a third seed in the playoff seeding or finding your self in an uncomfortable fight for a playoff spot in the second half of the season.

Sure, there have been injuries, as Ryan Kesler and David Booth, when healthy, have the ability to be more than adequate second line (or first line) players, however, almost every team has had or has players that have been out due to injury that could boast the same claim.

What has plagued the Canucks, and should be of great concern to them, as well as their fans, is the seeming lack of desperation and killer instinct for sixty full minutes game in and game out. This has been of concern ever since their galvanizing win against the Boston Bruins last season. Since then, the team seems to have peaked, and plays as if they are comfortable that their skill set and sheer talent will carry them to victories night in and night out, often with success, however, on those nights (and they are happening more frequently) when their opposition comes to work hard for a full sixty, the Canucks seem unable to ramp their compete level to match their opponent, leaving games that should be put out of reach until the final minutes, or left to the Overtime skills competition, which Vancouver has proved to be less than adequate in through the years.

Too many games see this team either flat the first twenty, only turning it on to make a game close at the end, or they come blazing out of the gates to a quick lead, and then quit playing at the same level, and let lesser teams bring the battle level to them. Last Thursday against Columbus, under manned themselves, found the Canucks clinging to the game for long stretches, letting a far inferior team control the pace and play. This, quite simply, is unacceptable for this franchise with the skill and players that they can put on the ice night in and night out.

Special teams have been anything but. I do not know how many times this season the Canucks could have put a game out of reach in the third period with a key power play goal or a big kill, but have been unable to do so. If it was just a 10-15 game stretch, one could understand, as all teams will go through peaks and valleys through a year, however, going back to last season, this is a 50-60 game sample size, and that has become a trend that has to end, and end quickly, if this team wants to be able to be considered a legitimate threat to make noise in the Western Conference this season.

Is it a ‘Country Club’ attitude that has taken over this team, who has forgotten how to work hard to achieve results? Is it a weak Division that hasn’t made this team play with desperation through a year to achieve success that is needed through consistent hard work, which is what, is required to get through the grueling spring playoff run? Has the team tuned out the message that Alain Vigneault and Rick Bowness preach for this team to have success? Or is a shake up, and not a minor one, to the roster required to bust this team out of its current funk? The answer is probably a little bit of all of the above. It can be fixed. There is enough character and skill in the dressing room to carry this team to more consistent play. It’s become common to say wait until April when the ‘real’ hockey starts, however, if this team doesn’t play April hockey earlier this season, it will find themselves in the same spot they were five games into an all too short playoff run last season, wondering just exactly what went wrong.

Your thoughts?  Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233