<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/10/116x66_1_103009.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">A break in the schedule and with 21 games already in the books equals a good time to review the first quarter of the Vancouver Canucks 2009.10 season.
At the outset of the season, if told the Canucks would be sitting at 11-10-0 after the first 21 games, there may have been cries of outrage among those in Canuck Nation. After all, this was a team that had stated from the beginning that getting off to a good start would be crucial to their playoff hopes given their enormous 14-game road trip (actually an eight-game trip before the Olympic break plus a six-game trip coming out of the Winter Games) beginning in late January and stretching through to mid-March.
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/nov1809_luongo_t.jpg" class="imageFloatRightFramed">21 games into this season, however, and it is still virtually impossible to gauge this season's version of the Canucks. At no time during this season have the Canucks had the benefit of a fully healthy lineup and not only have the amount of injuries been staggering, they've been to the likes of some of Vancouver's key performers including Daniel Sedin and Roberto Luongo.
Strictly going by the numbers, the Canucks are behind their pace of last season. After 21 games in the 2008.09 campaign, the Canucks sat first overall in the Northwest Division and third overall in the Western Conference. This season, the Canucks entered Wednesday trailing the division-leading Colorado Avalanche by seven points after the same number of games played.
Keeping in mind that game no. 21 of last season happened to be a key turning point for the team's fortunes as it was the afternoon contest in Pittsburgh where the Canucks lost Roberto Luongo for what turned out to be a 24-game stretch, barring the same misfortune and with Daniel Sedin's return on the horizon, the Canucks expect to be in a much better position as far as their roster is concerned as they drive towards the mid-way mark of the season.
As far as individual performances go, here are some of the best and worst of the first quarter of play for the Canucks in 2009.10:
Henrik Sedin (12-11-23 in 21 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/nov1109_daniel_t.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">For Henrik to have 23 points at this stage of the season is no shocker. For him to be able to do so without the winger who's been his linemate since he was in diapers is a bit of a surprise. 17 of his 23 points have come in the 17 games since Daniel's injury.
The biggest surprise with Sedin is that, after last Friday's hat-trick, he finds himself with a team-leading 12 goals. He's currently on a pace for a 40-plus goal season although it's probably a safe bet his goal pace won't continue through the rest of the season especially when Daniel gets back into the lineup as Henrik will likely to go back to his more familiar role of set-up man. However, it's probably a good thing for the Canucks to know that if they did choose to split the Sedins somewhere again down the line, Henrik at the very least can hold his own and actually can find the net on a regular basis.
Ryan Kesler (5-14-19 in 21 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/nov3_kesler2_t.jpg" class="imageFloatRightFramed">Last year's Team MVP looks to have picked up right where he left off last season as he's been one of Vancouver's most consistent point producers so far this season. The biggest change with Kesler is whereas last season much of his success was attributed to playing with Pavol Demitra and Mats Sundin, this season Kesler has been the one credited for sparking improved play among some of his new linemates. He had showed good chemistry with Michael Grabner (prior to his injury) and seems to be a big reason for some of Mason Raymond's offensive success of late.
After 21 games played last season, Kesler had just 13 points (5-8-13). He's had a reputation of getting stronger as the season goes along so he'll definitely be a player to watch for the Canucks as they near the midway mark of the season.
Mason Raymond (8-5-13 in 21 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/10/oct1709_wild03_t.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">After two seasons of tantalizing Canuck fans with his blazing speed but frustrating them all at the same time with his inability to finish, Mason Raymond looks like he's finally been able to put it all together. Raymond had just 23 points (11-12-23) all of last season (all career-high numbers) but is on pace to shatter all of those numbers providing he can stay healthy and not go into one of his trademark prolonged slumps.
Last season, he teased Canuck fans posting 10 points (5-5-10) in his first 13 games but went into a funk for most of November. After bouncing back with a decent December, he went into hibernation again for most of the rest of the season. He had just four points from January to the end of the regular season. Canucks fans are certainly hoping for a different path for Raymond this season.
Honourable Mention: Christian Ehrhoff/Andrew Raycroft
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/nov0509_ehrhoff_t.jpg" class="imageFloatRightFramed">Christian Ehrhoff came to Vancouver with the reputation as a point-producing defenceman and so far he hasn't disappointed. He leads all team blue-liners with goals (3) and points (12) but perhaps most surprisingly, he leads the team with a plus-nine rating. The biggest knock on Ehrhoff coming from San Jose was his defensive game but that hasn't been an issue so far. Last season, he finished minus-12 with the Sharks.
We don't expect to see too much of Andrew Raycroft from now until the midpoint of the season (barring injury to Roberto Luongo) but give him credit for keeping the ship afloat during the six games Luongo was out. His 2.18 GAA and .916 save percentage still have him ranked as statistically the best goaltender for the Canucks this season. If the season were to end today, his GAA would be the best by a Canucks netminder since the NHL lockout.
Kyle Wellwood (0-1-1 in 17 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/09/Sept_23_09_RAR_8_t.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">He was last year's feel-good story but the only thing Kyle Wellwood's feeling this season is the heat after getting off to the worst start of his NHL career. For a player who redefined himself as a goal-scorer last season Wellwood's lack of shots this season have been especially alarming.
Through 17 games played, Wellwood has just 17 shots on goal - an average of one per game. He has had more than one shot on goal in just three of his 17 games played this season. Last season, he had 94 shots in 74 games played.
Kevin Bieksa (1-10-11 in 21 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/10/oct15_bieksa_t.jpg" class="imageFloatRightFramed">After scoring 11 goals and netting a career-high 43 points in 2008.09, much more was expected of the Grimsby, Ontario native coming into this season. However, it's been a struggle for Bieksa at the offensive end of the ice. Bieksa hasn't scored since opening night in Calgary although his point production has been somewhat better in recent games as he has four assists in his last four outings.
It's hard to compare his production this year versus last since he missed eight of the first 21 games (ended up missing 9 of the first 22 games overall) with injury. However, through Vancouver's first 21 games last season, Bieksa had already tallied three times and had the same number of points as he does right now despite appearing in just 13 of those first 21 games in 2008.09.
Alex Edler (0-10-10 in 21 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/nov0509_prewild03_t.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">He had gotten progressively better in each season since entering the NHL, so Alex Edler's sudden struggles this season are a bit hard to explain. He had a career high in goals (10) last season but has yet to find the back of the net in 2009.10. He is also on pace for the first time in his career to finish on the minus side of the plus-minus rating.
But before Canuck Nation starts going into a panic, consider that Edler had an equally slow start through the first 21 games of last season (which included two missed games due to injury). At this time last season, Edler had one goal and five assists. Seven of his 10 goals last season came on or after January 31st.
Dishonourable Mention: Alex Burrows
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/nov1009_blues09_t.jpg" class="imageFloatRightFramed">12 points (4-8-12) in 21 games and a shared spot in the top-five of team scoring isn't too shabby but, based on the way he finished last season, it's understandable why Canucks fans are considering this start to be a disappointing one for Burrows. In his defence however, Burrows point production isn't too far off from where he was at this time last season. Through the first 21 games of the 2008.09 season, Burrows had 13 points (6-7-13).
It's easy to forget that Burrows didn't really hit his stride until he was placed on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin last season, but with Daniel's injury he hasn't had that opportunity much this season playing mostly on makeshift lines. One thing that's been noticeable looking at his numbers this season is that he's spreading the points around in more games. He has just one multi-point game this season whereas last season, through the first 21 games, he already had four multi-point outings.
THE JURY'S STILL OUT
Steve Bernier (6-4-10 in 19 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/10/oct1509_sportscelebs15_t.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">He is the NHL's version of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. On some nights, he can look like a dominant power forward and goal scorer. On others, you'd have to check the official roster to see if he's dressed. What we can tell you about Steve Bernier is that he's off to a slightly better start this season than he was in his first year as a Canuck.
Through the first 21 games last season, Bernier had five goals and nine points. He has six goals and 10 points so far this season and that's playing in two fewer games after he had to sit out a pair of contests earlier due to a bout with the flu. Coming out of last Friday's win over the Avalanche, the Bernier bandwagon is full again thanks to his first two-goal game of the season. Where it will be five, or 10, or 15 games from now is anybody's guess.
Mikael Samuelsson (8-7-15 in 21 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/10/oct28_samuelson_t.jpg" class="imageFloatRightFramed">When the Canucks signed Mikael Samuelsson away from the Red Wings in the off-season, they figured that being in the right scenario he could be a consistent 20-goal scorer (even though he had only reached the mark once in his career). A quarter into the season, he looks like he's certainly everything the Canucks have said he will be.
However, for those who read the Game Notes on a regular basis, you'll also know that Samuelsson tends to play his most productive hockey in the month of October and this season that appears to be no exception. After 12 points in 14 games during the season's opening month, Samuelsson has managed just three points in seven games in November. Through the first 21 games last season with Detroit, Samuelsson had five goals and 18 points.
Sami Salo (0-2-2 in 14 GP)
<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/08/aug1009_pic_t.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">With just two assists at the quarter mark of the season, it's tough to suggest Sami Salo's start is anything but a disappointment. However, Salo gets the nod in the "jury's still out" category for the reason that the Canucks seem to be in a transition mode with Salo in terms of his role with the team. His penchant for injury makes it tough for the Canucks to consider him an everyday player. Instead, it almost seems like an added bonus when Salo is in the lineup.
Certainly, the Canucks would love to see more production out of him when he does suit up. But even then, the Canucks re-tooled this off-season adding Christian Ehrhoff and Mathieu Schneider and, combined with the likes of Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler assuming they will eventually snap out of their respective funks, have four defencemen who can be relied on to generate offence from the back end meaning the pressure on Salo should be lightened somewhat. At this point last season, Salo had one goal and eight points despite missing four of the first 21 games with injury.
Vancouver's 2008.09 record from Game No. 22 to Game No. 41: 8-9-3