Friday, March 21, 2008

Canucks: Gunning for the division

Funnily enough, the Canucks have kept up their string of incomprehensible play lately. Things were looking bleak around the trade deadline while the team was hovering on the playoff bubble, and some demands for the head of general manager Dave Nonis were even heard after he failed to do anything more significant than swapping Matts. The team promptly continued their slump, scoring only five times in three games and recording only 10 shots against woeful Chicago, which captain Markus Naslund accurately described as "embarrassing." Since then, they've put up some better results, are now inside the playoff picture looking out instead of the converse, and could take the Northwest Division lead tonight with a win over Minnesota.

It's hard to tell if this string of results flows from better plays or merely better bounces, though. Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun nailed it after the Canucks scraped out a win against Dallas last Saturday.

"Seventy-two games into the Canucks' National Hockey League season, we still don't know what to make of them," he wrote. "In any game, they are as liable to be discouraging as impressive, heartening as alarming. They are praised and they are derided, and are almost never beautiful."

That's been the reality of life as a Canucks' fan since the Luongo trade, when they went from being a fun-to-watch hockey version of the West Coast Offense to beating Jacques Lemaire at his own trapping game. They're probably a better team for it, but they now live on that razor's edge, where the difference between a win and a loss is usually a bounce. Sometimes, they get the breaks, like Brendan Morrison's winning goal in that Dallas game, which MacIntyre appropriately called "a thing of ugly". At other times, they don't. It's tough to tell if the glass is half-full or half-empty. On the one hand, they have Mr. All-World minding the nets, they've got a defence that does a good job despite half of its roster usually being on the injury list, and they're only one point out of the division lead. On the other hand, they rarely win convincingly (even last night's 4-1 win over Edmonton didn't look close to a sure thing for most of the game), and there's the ever-present worry of where the offense will come from. I could see this team making a Cinderella run deep into the playoffs, but I could also see them crashing out in the first round or maybe even pulling off such a drastic collapse that they don't even make the dance. In any case, you never know what you're going to get from this team, which is more entertaining than any firewagon style.

- Matthew Sekeres' piece in the Globe on tonight's game
- Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province seems unusually optimistic on the team's prospects: "When this team is killing off penalties confidently, Luongo is very much on his form and they get goals from unlikely sources the way they did here Thursday, these guys can appear as a mean piece of business to any opponent in the playoffs."
- The Province's Jason Botchford tells us Ryan Kesler's going to be fine after taking that slapshot off the leg last night: given that he's been one of the best Canucks lately, that's certainly good to hear.
- In contrast tp the optimism of Gallagher and Sekeres, Alanah's still worried about the chances of a late-season collapse taking the Canucks out of the playoffs: not unthinkable given the streaky nature of this team and the parity in the West, plus the tough divisional schedule the Canucks play from here on in
- Zanstorm weighs in on the recent injuries to Mason Raymond and Aaron Miller

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