After dropping a decision late in the third period at home against the Ducks, who were 3-5-5 on the road entering the game, the Canucks have some ground to gain. Following the loss, Vancouver is 10th in the West, and Minnesota, who holds a game in hand, only trails by three points. These, in my humble opinion, are the 5 things they must do to ensure a playoff spot in the Western conference.
5) Better third line production: Kyle Wellwood, wherefore art thou? Please leave the Press box and come join us for some goals, would you? I recognize that it's difficult to duplicate last years' 18 goal output, and you've performed well in the faceoff circle and away from the puck.
Not that the Canucks' success hinges on him scoring goals, but we need offence right now, and the third line is not producing much to speak of. Perhaps the most telling stat here is that on the Canucks' depth chart, the three players currently listed were not there 2 weeks ago. It would be awesome to see Steve Bernier line up with someone that he can develop some chemistry with, because his forecheck is excellent, and I love the amount he has been hitting.
4) More consistent efforts away from GM Place: This is obviously not something that just happens because you wish it to. We could talk till the cows come home about their horrific road schedule, travel times, etc. But I believe this is a preparation deficiency, and/or mental breakdown of some sort. 6-10-0 so far is not very good, and a couple of those losses were truly winnable games. In reality, the Canucks will need at least a .500 record on the road to make certain of a post-sesaon appearance.
3) Less man-games lost to injury: One of the intangibles that, for the most part, is out of anybody's control. Though Vancouver hasn't been the most plagued team in the league, they're close. They felt the pinch losing Daniel Sedin for a 14 stretch with a broken left foot, as well as Luongo for a shorter stint (in which their backups did an admirable job). Sami Salo, well, there's usually some period in the season where you have to factor in an injury for the two-way defender. But Pavol Demitra would be a nice addition back, and I can say that I'm personally looking forward to reuniting Grabner with Kesler and Raymond.
2) "Last half" Lou:
Before proceeding one more iota, disclaimer: This is not a Luongo 'call-out'. Luongo has been playing very well, and the Canucks would be in a lot worse jam if not for him, no matter how hot the Sedins have been. But for all of his great attributes, Luongo self-admittedly doesn't always start the season as strongly as he would like. Canucks fans are crossing their fingers for one of his patented 2nd half hot streaks, where he basically owns most NHL shooters. Without a hot Luongo after the All-Star break, this team might fizzle out.
1) Better penalty kill: Here's the $20,000 question: What would you rather be more proficient at - the penalty kill or the power play? In what has been a stark contrast to the last few seasons, the Canucks' penalty kill has not been very good, ranked 21st at 78.9 % efficiency. The role reversal comes with an upside, as they are tied with Columbus for the 3rd best power play in the NHL. The PK traditionally for the Canucks has been strong, and needs to improve before their record follows suit. Of course, not giving up as many man advantages would be ideal, but if they don't tighten up their discipline, the only answer remaining is to have a stronger kill. Special teams make or break (the new) NHL clubs, and if the law of averages holds true, the Canucks really only sit just above the middle of the pack.
With the Washington Capitals in town on Friday, and half of their 8 game homestand in the books, now would be a great time to incorporate some of the elements listed above. After all, it's not too early to start the standings watch...
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Larenzo Jensen, with files from Getty Images, TSN, ESPN, and Yahoo! Sports