I wrote a post back in November with the same question. Back then, the Canucks were fifth in the league standings, two point behind the conference leading Detroit Red Wings. We were 22 games into the season, and things looked great. Even without Luongo in net, Sanford’s play were stellar, and project acquisition Kyle Wellwood were playing his best games ever. We thought our team would just ease our way into the playoffs with home-ice advantage.
But then January came, with just 2 wins in the entire month, the Canucks were quickly dropping in standings with a horrible eight-games winless streak. Luongo re-injured himself because he pushed himself too hard, Wellwood isn’t scoring anymore, Sundin’s acquistion proved no rewards, and the defense were playing horribly with Salo going in and out of the line-up, all contributed to a complete breakdown of the team. Alain Vigneualt was on his way out, even with Luongo back in the line-up, the team lacks confidence with their captain still trying to find his A-game back. Then AV splits Kesler and Burrows, and placed them on the top-two lines, and the rest is history.
Fast-forward to yesterday, the Canucks with 18 games left in the season, sitting at 5th spot in the west and winning 12 in their last 14 games, faced a top-team with a familiar problem. The Sharks entering last night’s game plagued with injuries, with Goc, Grier, Roenick, Mitchell, Huskins, Lemieux and star-netminder Nabokov all out of the line-up. By the mid-frame of this game, the Sharks will find themselves with one more key-injury when veteran defenseman Rob Blake injured his leg during a goal by Joe Thornton. San Jose were on a 3-game losing streak, while the Canucks were trying for their third consecutive 4-game winning streak.
The Sharks looked disoriented, and lacked confidence. The first two quick goals extinguished any remaining confidence for the team which most NHL commentators selected as most-likely to win the Cup this year. Taking lazy penalties, three in the first, three in the second and two in the third – all of the hooking – tripping – roughing kind, didn’t help the team’s momentum at all. Then came a late goal by Thornton during the second period, the Sharks would’ve been able to build on that, down only by one goal with 20 minutes remaining in the game, but the thought of losing another D-man in Rob Blake may have taken its toll on the entire team.
So when the Canucks talked about beating the best team in the West for a preview of the Playoffs, they were just kidding themselves, because they weren’t playing the Sharks last night. They were playing a struggling team without their startup goaltender, and a severely depleted line-up. Dan Boyle had to play 30:17 minutes in the absence of Rob Blake, and he played a great game with a team-leading 9 shots on goal. If you look at the second period, when the Canucks were given 3 consecutive power-plays with a total of 5 shot-on-goals, the team really didn’t play that well. In the third, we see more give-aways by the Canucks, especially with the Wellwood line, failing to clear the zone in a number of occasions. If it wasn’t for Luongo’s spectacular save on Cheechoo’s point-blank shot, the game would’ve ended very differently.
I mean, I still give the boys credit for this win, it’s very crucial as we are very near the end of the season, the two points will give us cushion against the rest of the pack. But don’t get over-excited about this as well, as the team they played last night is only a fraction of the Sharks usual self. I hope the team will review this game in details, because I think the confidence is making some players cocky, and being too risky on a lot of plays.
As for the Sharks, I think this current struggle may be the best thing that happened to them, if they intend to win the cup this year. Teams have ups and downs, and successful teams learn how to play as a group through the downs and rebuild themselves to win again. This is also the reason why so many Presidential Trophy winners during the regular season failed so miserably during the playoffs. They don’t know how to regroup themselves when they start losing games, they don’t have the experience during the season because they were winning most of their games!!! If the Sharks can have their key players back healthy soon, I think they will be much stronger and harder to beat than they were before this current losing streak.
So to answer my question, how good is the team right now???
I think the Canucks are playing good hockey, but still quite far away from the elite teams like the Red Wings, the Bruins, the Devils and even the Sharks. It’s more a psychological problem for them now. Back when the team were losing consecutive games, they were careful and humble, and perhaps that’s the reason why they turned things around. The current winning streak is making them over-confident, and if they find themselves losing a few games near the end of the season, they will panic and there won’t be enough time for them to regain themselves.