“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?”
In the four years that I’ve been running this website, there’s never been more excitement and intrigue surrounding the Vancouver Canucks than there is going into 2019-20 season. But hey, maybe it just seems that way to me because I’m actually living in Vancouver for the first time in over a decade.
Regardless, the 49th edition of the Canucks is one full of mystery and hope. Nobody knows for sure what to label them; are they a playoff team? Are they good enough to compete with the NHL’s best? Are they a club that’s eternally cursed by the hockey gods to have injuries derail all their plans?
While the first week of the season is frankly too early to make any guesses, if you were basing your answer on their opening games against the Oilers and Flames you probably don’t like their chances. The Canucks had their moments in both Alberta outings, but untimely defensive breakdowns and a general lack of urgency eventually did them in.
While a few very serious issues have given me a cause for concern, the obvious good news is that the first and second games don’t make or break your season. There’s more than enough time for Travis Green and his coaching staff to address the problems that plagued the Canucks this week and fix them before the real playoff grind begins.
And that’s what The Sunday Crease is all about. Even in the worst of times, there are silver linings to be found. Even when the Canucks puts themselves into terrible situations, there are ways to make the best out of them.
The stories I might get to tell in Year 3 of my column could be a lot different from the last two. There’s still going to be the odd article that might as well just read “Elias Pettersson. That is all.”. But now there could be an opportunity to talk about more results-based victories than moral ones, and that’d be a pretty welcome change.
The path the Canucks will follow in 2019-20 is anyone’s guess. But venturing into the great unknown is half the fun, and I hope you’ll join me for the adventure.
Welcome to The Sunday Crease; Season Three.
When The Team Falls Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Normally a 0-2 start wouldn’t bother me much; the amount of losing I’ve seen over the last half decade has made me pretty numb to it by this point. But the way they lost, particularly their 3-0 shutout at the hands of David Rittich and the Flames, did set off the alarm bells in my head; they looked tired.
Calgary was all over the Canucks for most of the night, beating them to loose pucks and intercepting pass attempts on a regular basis. The latter strategy paid off in the first frame when a Tyler Myers cross ice pass in front of the net was easily picked off by Elias Lindholm and ripped past Jacob Markstrom.
The second period is where things really went off the rails. The Canucks were outshot 14-5, including a 10-2 run by the Flames in the first 8:35 of the period. The Chris Tanev-Quinn Hughes pairing was also victimized for the second straight game, this time thanks to a pair of failed clearing attempts ended up on Calgary sticks.
It was pretty hard to wrap my brain around what I was watching. Here was this Canucks team that spent most of the summer trying to get younger and faster, but somehow they’ve entered 2019-20 looking slower than ever. They looked like an already eliminated playoff team just going through the motions the middle of March.
And that’s super disappointing, especially when we got glimpses of what a dialed in group could do. Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen were the only forwards who seemed to drink their intermission espresso after the first period, and it showed in their limited amount of ice time. Quinn Hughes may have some work to do at his own end of the rink, but his skill in the offensive zone has people demanding he get promoted to the top power play unit. And when Vancouver’s top lines did find their footing, a couple members of The Banffstreet Boys took notice.
The toolset is clearly there to turn the Canucks into a more aggressive team who uses their hidden speed to catch opponents off guard, but the urgency and player endurance needs to become much more prevalent. I firmly believe there’s a fast and exciting team under this slow and boring shell, but it’s up to the coaching staff to find the right formula. May I suggest calling up a certain skilled winger?
Around the Rinks
I’m sure I’ve lost the respect of some Canucks fans for saying I enjoy watching the Toronto Maple Leafs in the past. Their entertaining brand of fast skating, talent and hockey IQ has made them must-see TV and, unlike in certain eras, actually deserving of their numerous prime time slots. (See? I’ll win you back yet, Vancouver.)
But after getting a better look at the high-octane style of hockey the Leafs play over the last few games, I can’t help but feel like this version of the Canucks could find success with their own interpretation of Toronto’s strategy. I’m not suggesting an exact copy, cause copycat teams rarely become more than an inferior version of the original. But if Vancouver’s younger forwards can find a way to add a few elements from Toronto’s attack, like their lightning quick passing around the slot, the goal scoring should follow.
Imagine Petey, Brock, Bo and Quinn toying with teams like that on a power play. Beautiful, isn’t it?
The Carolina Hurricanes have rolled their way into a franchise best 3-0 start to the season, winning every game in extra time, and after all the fun the Canes gave us last year you can’t help but hope we’re starting a sequel. But let’s not let the extra points and Storm Surges cloud the craziest part about this team that made the Eastern Conference Final last season; they’re even better.
Today’s win was a true statement victory over the mighty Lightning, and I’m not just talking about the 3-1 comeback. Take a look at the shot totals with five minutes remaining:
It’s amazing what a great workplace environment can do for a company/hockey team. The way the Canes have gone from potential relocation target to the funnest team in the NHL has vaulted them into my top five favourite teams list, and I can’t wait to see where the Bunch of Jerks era is heading next.
Dang it Mike Smith, where was this play on Wednesday?!
There’s a few different tributes I’ve been putting off during the offseason, but doing one of them in this column seems fitting.
If you’ve read the Sunday Crease before, you might’ve noticed it sometimes takes on a far less interesting and polished “Provies/Athletties” vibe, and that’s because it was meant to. I started this column as my own sort of spin on the work of two of my favourite writers, Jason Botchford and Wyatt “The Stanchion” Arndt.
When Jason passed away in May, it was gut wrenching.
I never got the opportunity to meet or talk to Botch, and I’d always naively expected I’d get that chance someday. But his legacy in this city goes far beyond the man himself, and thanks to the wonderful way his friends have been working to cement it over the summer, I feel like I’ve known him my whole life.
The Athletic’s tribute night for Botch prior to the NHL Draft was a very eye-opening experience for me; seeing just how many hockey fans and media members like myself whose life he’d made an impact on. If it wasn’t for Jason’s example, I might not be a hockey writer today. So tonight, I raise my coffee mug and dedicate this season of The Sunday Crease to the man who unknowingly helped create it. Thank you for everything, Botch.
I’m admittedly not the best when it comes to talking about emotional subjects like this, so I encourage you to check out a few of the much better tributes put together by other fine folks over the last few months like Canucks Army’s Jackson McDonald, The Province’s Patrick Johnston, TSN’s Jeff Paterson, The Athletic’s Wyatt Arndt and, last but not least, Elias Pettersson.
I like to finish this column every week with some music, and while we’re not ending on the happiest note, I think hearing the most uplifting song of all time would do us all some good today. So, with that in mind, let the sounds of Freddie Mercury play us out.
Thanks for reading! Which Canuck impressed you the most during their first two games? Leave a comment below!